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Music Reviews

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November 6, 1996

Simple Songs of Freedom

Linda ThompsonLinda Thompson, Dreams Fly Away (Ryko 1996) - Britain's Linda Thompson, who recorded a terrific body of material with her ex-husband, Richard Thompson, is finally treated to a well-overdue retrospective with Dreams Fly Away. Linda's deep, haunting voice is featured on the 20 cuts (only six of which have been previously released), including rare live performances, studio out-takes, and unreleased songs.

Linda Thompson has enjoyed a fascinating pop career, which was cut short by a cruel prank by the Big Guy in the Sky (see below). Born in London in 1948, she performed in folk clubs with the star-crossed Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin in the late 60s. Before marrying Richard, she recorded radio jingles with Manfred Mann and worked as a secretary to legendary producer Peter Asher.

After Richard and Linda's marriage in 1972, the couple recorded such classic albums as I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1973) and Shoot Out The Lights (1982).

Linda ThompsonRichard Thompson's songs were given terrific treatments by Linda, whose grave, lucid poise and disarming candor conveyed a timelessness, of ancient and modern, that allowed Richard, Linda, and their musicians to tie together many strands of British music.

During the mid 70s, Richard and Linda embraced Islamic life, including the robes they wore on the cover of their third album, Pour Down Like Silver, and residence in a Sufi squat in Maida Vale. "Although Islam itself was a revelation," Linda recalls, "the commune was full of white middle-class people trying to punish themselves, and everybody else. It taught me a lot. To stay away from sects, mostly."

The penultimate Shoot Out The Lights was recorded twice, with the starker, second version following a more-commercial effort by then-hit makers Gerry Rafferty and Hugh Murphy. Two tracks from the Rafferty sessions make their debut on Dreams Fly Away - a version of "Walking On a Wire" with a powerful vocal by Linda, and a cover of fellow folkie Sandy Denny's, "I'm A Dreamer."

The marriage fell apart just prior to the Shoot Out The Lights tour. Linda admits that many of the stories that came out of this period are true, including the rumor that she once hit Richard with a guitar on stage. "Oh, I did, I did," she confesses with a wicked laugh. "And reasonably often, I shudder to tell you. It was a time of letting go for me - I'd been so cloistered in the relationship; I'd been so polite and didn't have my own thoughts or my own friends."

Linda ThompsonAfter her breakup with Richard, Linda went on to record several solo projects, including an unreleased album recorded in Nashville in 1987. But then Linda's career was cut short by a phenomenon known as "hysterical dysphonia," in which, according to Linda, "you open your mouth and nothing happens."

Starting in about 1988, Linda says that "I just really couldn't sing. All my anxiety was in my throat and after that I knew I was going to stop for good. I was 40, old enough to think, 'Well, I've had a good run.' I was more devastated by the psychological implications than by the fact of not being able to sing."

Thompson is a great talent, and her readings of "Walking On A Wire" and "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" are as good as anything ever recorded by a female rock vocalist. Dreams Fly Away is a fascinating collection.

Richard ThompsonRichard Thompson, You? Me? Us? (Capitol 1996) -- Not to be outdone by his ex, Richard Thompson has released a new double-disc collection in You? Me? Us?, with one album (called "Voltage Enhanced") featuring electric material, and the other album ("Nude") featuring acoustic songs.

You? Me? Us? was produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake (of Los Lobos fame), and underscores the folk/pop dichotomy in Richard Thompson. Also featured on the album are such renowned studio musicians as Jim Keltner (drums), Pete Thomas (of the Attractions), and Jerry Scheff on bass.

Richard ThompsonFortunately, Thompson has a strong sense of identity, and doesn't allow Froom and Blakes' freedoms to become indulgences. Instead, the album builds a spooky, intimate feeling.

To be honest, You? Me? Us? bogs down at times. But it still contains some Thompson gems, including the marvelously British, "Dark Hand Over My Heart."

Hearing You? Me? Us? made me go back to 1994's much-overlooked Beat the Retreat, which contained great covers of Thompson songs by R.E.M., David Byrne, and Graham Parker. Beat the Retreat is a terrific collection, and deserves to be revisited.

Thompson's moodiness is an acquired taste, but once he's sunk his folk-barbed hook into you, you'll come back for such challenges as You? Me? Us?

Tim HardinTim Hardin, Simple Songs of Freedom: A Collection (Columbia Legacy 1996) -- Speaking of Tim Hardin, Columbia has released a 17-song collection from the troubled troubadour's three-year career with the label. While the album generally features Tim's unaffected delivery, the standout is the studio single, "Simple Song of Freedom" (1969).

Hardin (who died in L.A. in 1980) enjoyed his greatest success in the mid 60s with the Verve label, writing and singing such classics as "If I Were a Carpenter." The new collection features tracks from each of Tim's three Columbia releases -- Songs for Susan Moore and Damien, Bird on a Wire, and Painted Head -- as well as five previously unavailable tracks recorded in Nashville in 1968.

Tim bounced around during the last decade of his life, landing in London, Seattle, and Los Angeles before dying of a drug overdose. But his reputation as singer/songwriter extraordinaire lives on in Simple Songs of Freedom.

-- Randy Krbechek

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