Record Review 

In the mid-'70s, there were three astonishing voices in the underworld that formed the border between pop and folk in the U.K.: Sandy Denny, Nick Drake and Linda Thompson. Their sounds -- not to mention their cult followings -- had certain elements in common, thanks to shared backing musicians and production teams from the Fairport Convention school of folk rock.

Now, almost 30 years later -- the odd brief revival notwithstanding -- it seems like a distant dream. Denny and Drake died tragically young, and Thompson's numerous artistic triumphs with former husband, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson, were long ago silenced by a deadly combination of divorce and dysphonia (a rare voice disorder).

Fashionably Late reintroduces listeners to Linda's haunting voice, which has been silent for almost 20 years. Richard & Linda Thompson American Newsletter co-founder Ed Haber has graduated to the producer's chair, rounding up a stellar team of sidemen from the good old days, in the process turning the clock back quite effectively -- not to 1982's much-hyped Shoot Out the Lights, but closer to the sublime Pour Down Like Silver from five years earlier.

Among those helping out on Fashionably Late include Fairport Convention alumni Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks, folk legend Martin Carthy, and surprise guests such as Van Dyke Parks and Geoff Muldaur. Even ex-husband Richard puts in an appearance.

The opening "Dear Mary" (recorded at original Fairport/Thompson producer Joe Boyd's home) sounds like classic Richard and Linda, thanks to the former's delicious spidery guitar and backing vocals. Richard never reappears, but John Doyle's delicate acoustic picking amply demonstrates Thompson's influence on a generation of guitarists. Linda (who hardly ever wrote in the '70s) came up with most of the new material, often aided by her and Richard's son Teddy (who also contributes guitar and vocals to many tracks).

The smokey "Paint & Powder Beauty" (co-written with Rufus Wainwright, another son of musical legends) is graced with a gorgeous string arrangement by Robert Kirby, best known for his classic work with Nick Drake.

This is the closest we are likely to get to a Richard and Linda reunion in this lifetime.


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