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Fashionably Late: Linda Thompson (with son Teddy) hasn't performed in Maryland since 1982. But last week's show was almost worth the wait.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 11/6/2002

Linda Thompson

Linda Thompson

2002-11-06-feedback

Until last week, the one and only time Linda Thompson had ever performed in Maryland had been May 13, 1982, when she and her then-husband, Richard Thompson, brought their band to the Aurora Theatre, the old Seven East movie house that briefly flourished as a concert venue on Baltimore's North Avenue. Few people knew it at the time, but the first couple of British folk rock had just separated, and the resulting antagonism was the source of that show's remarkable emotional edge.

Over the 20 years since then, Linda has avoided not only Maryland but concert stages everywhere. After her divorce, she released an overproduced but enjoyable pop-rock solo album, 1985's One Clear Moment, and then her dysphonia--a constriction of the vocal cords--got so bad that she stopped singing altogether. She was one of the finest female singers of her generation, and her absence has been keenly felt.

So when Linda headlined a show at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis last week, it was a second chance that many fans thought they'd never get. The 54-year-old Linda no longer had the gaunt beauty of the 34-year-old Linda, but the older singer enjoyed a relaxed, wisecracking self-assurance that her grim-faced younger self had often lacked. She wore a knee-length gray jacket over faded jeans, and her short, brown hair was tousled as she climbed up on a high barstool.

She began the show, as she begins her new album, Fashionably Late (Rounder), with "Dear Mary," a lilting folk-rock number about a woman whose past lies and betrayals catch up to her. In the studio, the lead guitar had been handled by ex-husband Richard and the vocal harmonies by two of their three children, Teddy and Kamila. Richard didn't make it to the Rams Head, but flanking Linda on the stage were Teddy and Kammy, two good-looking redheads who were lucky enough to inherit the supple silkiness of their mother's voice and not the cragged croakiness of their father's.

Teddy, in fact, had opened the show with a solo-acoustic set with eight of his own songs, which boasted strong melodic hooks and underdeveloped lyrics. It was his 2000 album, Teddy Thompson (Virgin), that had inspired Linda to get back in the game, and her son played a crucial role on her new album, co-writing five songs with his mom, writing a sixth by himself, and performing on five tracks.

After four songs from Fashionably Late, Linda dipped into her earlier career by singing "Lonely Hearts" from the 1979 Richard and Linda album, Sunnyvista. As she started the song, Teddy screwed up the guitar part, and Linda said, "This never happened with your father." Teddy hung his head with an embarrassed grin, but the audience let out a laugh of relief. If Linda could joke about her ex-husband, then we could stop worrying about the soap-opera history and enjoy the music.

The next song was "No Telling" from the new album, but Linda came in too early with her vocal. "This never happened with Emmylou Harris," Teddy commented, and the whole club cracked up. Once she recovered her composure, Linda turned in a stunning vocal.

She was so crisp that she got listeners to laugh out loud at the jokes about marriage in "Weary Life" and to sit in rapt silence during the hushed ballad melody of "The Dimming of the Day," the one song she repeated from her 1982 show. Before the night was done, she had sung another Richard song, "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," the traditional a cappella ballad "Blue Blazing Blind Drunk," and nine of the 10 songs on Fashionably Late.

John Doyle, a former member of the Irish folk band Solas, was in town to prepare for the Tim O'Brien and the Crossing show at College Park, and Linda called him up out of the audience to re-create several of his arrangements from Fashionably Late. Doyle's quicksilver runs on the acoustic guitar recalled Richard, and Linda responded with her best performance of the evening, "The Banks of the Clyde."

The Clyde River runs through Glasgow, Scotland, Linda's hometown, and she used the fictional tale of a homesick prostitute in London to dig into the universal longing for a childhood that's gone and can never be recaptured. As Doyle's guitar phrases danced all around her, she held onto her notes with an unnerving steadiness, as if measuring every inch between the hopes of childhood and the compromises of adulthood.

"Welcome back," someone in the audience called out afterward. "Thank you," she said. "It's good to be back."

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