It won’t be long now until the first people in the country are vaccinated (tomorrow). It won’t be long now until the evenings start getting lighter (two weeks). It won’t be long now until Christmas (eighteen days). It won’t be long now before the entire world is vaccinated (?). Despair will be concluded with lightness. Much like this amazing album.
Following the release of “Shoot Out The Lights” in 1982 and a fraught tour of the USA, Richard and Linda Thompson divorced. Since then, she has released four solo albums. Her career has been disrupted by suffering from spasmodic dysphonia which causes the muscles of a voice to go into spasm.
“Won’t be Long Now” is a family affair. She has three children (Muna, Teddy and Kami) with Richard Thompson and they all appear on the album. Zac Hobbs who is Linda Thompson’s grandson also plays as does Richard Thompson and his son, Jack, by another marriage.
“Love’s For Babies And Fools” opens the album and is gorgeous. It could have been on “Pour Down Like Silver”, it’s that good. Her voice hasn’t changed since her younger days, Richard Thompson plays wonderful acoustic guitar and the lyrics are typically dysfunctional “You could be my saviour but there’s one thing I know. If you scratch a lover you will surely find a foe”. The irony of singing this song about the unhappiness of falling in love whilst her ex husband accompanies her presumably appealed to her well developed sense of humour, if not irony.
“If I Were A Bluebird” was co written with Ron Sexsmith and lasts for six lovely minutes. Linda Thompson has always been able to convey sadness and wistfulness through her voice and this is one of her very best. It’s another song with a sea connection as she has fallen in love with a sailor. She wishes she were a bluebird who could fly to the vessel and be with him. By the last verse he is in “the new world” and married leaving her in despair. Not too far removed from the sentiments of “Boots Of Spanish Leather”. David Mansfield, who played in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder review plays very sympathetic guitar on this song.
“As Fast As My Feet” is much more up-tempo and features Linda Thompson’s daughter, Kami, on lead vocals with mother and her other two children on harmony vocals. It reminds me of some of the sound of “The Bunch” which featured Linda and Richard Thompson with Sandy Denny for their 1971 album “Rock On”. Zak Hobbs plays lead electric guitar nearly as well as his grandfather, Richard.
“Never Put To Sea Boys” is in the form of a sea shanty and most of the song is in the form of a warning against a life on the sea only for the last verse to end in misery and despair as she yearns to return to the life that she has spent the song warning against. “Father Son Ballad” was written by Teddy Thompson. Like many songs on the album, the narrative is timeless and the lyrics hint at a father wishing his son well as he embarks in battle at any time in the last thousand years. Dave Swarbrick plays a very sad fiddle solo. “Nursery Rhyme Of Innocence & Experience” was written by Cornish poet, Charles Causley and has been covered by Natalie Merchant (formally of 10000 Maniacs). This is another sad song associated with the sea. “Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk” is my least favourite song on the album, mainly because The Unthanks performed it so brilliantly on “The Bairns” and I’m not a huge fan of unaccompanied songs.
“Mr Tams” is very strange and Linda Thompson adopts a mock traditional folky voice for this homage (or piss take?) to John Tams, a musician and actor who amongst other achievements, was a member of the Albion Band. Eliza Carthy sings one of the verses and her father, the great Martin Carthy (Pentangle) plays acoustic guitar. The Irish singer Susan McKeown sings another verse.
“Paddy’s Lamentation” is from the soundtrack to “Gangs Of New York”. When Martin Scorsese (the director) heard that Linda Thompson was singing a song for the album, he replied “is she still alive?” As she writes in the sleevenotes, “Martin Scorsese thinking I’m dead is as famous as I’m ever going to get.” The song is simply arranged – Linda Thompson on vocals and her son Teddy Thompson playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony vocals. Beautiful.
Linda Thompson writes that she has “hardly spent a moment of my adult life unmarried” so “Never The Bride” is, as she writes, “wishful thinking.” She wrote the song with Teddy Thompson and the six verses tell a sad and rueful story of the (fictitious) loves of her life who all abandoned her until she ends up alone, crying herself to sleep every night.
Finally, the title song is more jolly and upbeat than most of the album. After all the misery, sadness, despair and gloom of most of the rest of the album, she decides that “I think I’d better live before I die”. Teddy Thompson’s guitar work is uplifting and the song seems right in keeping with these dark days of December, waiting for the pandemic to disappear. It won’t be long now.