When she and Richard Thompson were setting the standard for English folk rock in the 1970s, Linda Thompson was burdened with interpreting her husband’s songs of “doom and gloom.” Twenty-five years after their divorce, and two albums into a late comeback, Linda finally seems to be lightening up, at least musically.
Though there is still a good measure of Ye Olde English darkness on “Versatile Heart,” some of the new songs written by Thompson and her son Teddy are breezily sardonic. “There’s a chance I’m gonna miss you,” she sings drunkenly on the lazy country blues, “Do Your Best for Rock’n Roll,” “but it’s a chance I’m gonna take.”
With its references to Troy, Oscar Wilde and Michael Jackson, Rufus Wainwright’s “Beauty,” sung as a duet with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, is sardonic in an art-song vein, but Thompson’s plaintive alto infuses it with the kind of world-weariness Wainwright himself can’t genuinely hope to realize for another two decades. She lays into her own storied depression (“Give me a sad song and I’m in a class of my own”) with wit and flair, and on the self-penned “Whisky, Bob Copper and Me,” where she’s accompanied by Martin and Eliza Carthy, nostalgia for her folk music roots is undercut by the acknowledgment that she’s now facing the mortality she used to sing about so lustily with her comrades. With Richard she sounded tragically wise beyond her years. Now she just sounds like herself.