The guest list on this new album by Linda Thompson reads like the A List of the British folk aristocracy with a slice of Americana thrown in. It is not surprising. The return of possibly the greatest female voice in folk this side of Sandy Denny is an event and one which is remarkable bearing in mind her problems with spasmodic dysphonia that has left other singers permanently without a voice."Won't be long now" is her first album in six years. Anchoring this musical feast is the wider Thompson family in the form of her daughters Kami and Muna, her singer-songwriter son Teddy and the return of the ex - the great Richard Thompson. His presence on the stellar opener "Love's for Babies and Fools" invests this plaintive self-penned ballad with effortless acoustic guitar work adding to the powerful vocal presence as it did so often in the past. Indeed, the voice of Linda Thompson remains a brilliant instrument evoking glories built throughout a long career and remaining true to its deep folk roots. "If I were a bluebird" at nearly seven minutes is the album's longest song and it is an autumnal treat, Thompson is accompanied by some new stars of Americana namely Sam Amidon and Amy Helm daughter of the recently departed Levon. Things lift for the jaunty cover of Anna McGarrigle's "As Fast as my Feet" where all the Thompson offspring appear and Kami takes lead vocals. Having John Doyle on guitar is a joy and his playing on the shanty "Never put the boys to sea" is brilliant but when he combines with another folk giant an absolute standout follows. On "Father Son ballad" Thompson is reunited with the greatest folk violinist Dave Swarbrick bar none, providing a shimmering emotive backdrop. He makes a reappearance on the rousing "Mr Tams".
Natalie Merchant recently turned Charles Causley's poem "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience" almost into a Celtic jig. Thompson's version reinvests the sadness of longing inherent in this poem and with none other than Martin Carthy providing the acoustic guitar its 1-0 to her. As for the other songs "Paddy's Lamentation" previously appeared in voice only on the "Gangs of New York" soundtrack. This version has more instrumentation and is very well done. "Never the Bride" is a wistful folk ballad where a heartbroken young woman, longs for "a man with only one side." Thompson also takes on that traditional tale of human suffering "Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk", a hurtful waltz about booze and marital abuse which has also been brilliantly covered by the Unthanks. Her voice on its own unaccompanied on stage is a wonder. Finally, the title track is a sprightly country swing-inflected song penned by Teddy, which brings this admirable musical feast to a close.
Linda Thompson is the Grande Dame of British Folk and draws on the vast personal experience of life, love and loss. She has also invested her heart and soul into her singing which is why she is so special to so many people. "Won't be long now" is the most welcome of returns and why not in the run up to the Yuletide festivities invest in more than one copy and pass this great music to relatives and best friends. You will be the toast of the season.