Linda and Richard Thompson, “The Great Valerio” (1974): One Track Mind
Regular readers will note my unhealthy obsession with the Thompson family. It’s not just Richard Thompson, whose recent box set made my best of list of 2017. Or Teddy Thompson, whose albums are all great; his production of ingenue Dori Freema is also first rate. My obsession also involves Kami Thompson and her project the Rails with Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne and, of course, Linda Thompson.
Linda’s solo career has been sporadic but no less stellar. A Grammy-winning composer for “Telling Me Lies,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton for their trio album, Thompson processes a honest vocal style which is uniquely enchanting. Her vocals on the Thompson family album a few years back show her vocal and songwriting skills are still there.
Recently, I’ve been revisiting her work with Richard Thompson. Their 1974 collaboration I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, produced by Richard and engineer Jon Wood, was the formerly married couple’s first as a recording team. It is often overshadowed by 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights, but most albums in the rock era are. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight eventually found a way into many a critical heart, appearing on various best of list for rock and folk albums because of its amazing songs (all written by Richard), moving guitar (played by Richard), and stunning vocals (mostly by Linda). This is not to say there isn’t magic to be found on the duets, or in the songs Richard sings. It’s just that Linda Thompson is enchanting.
“The Great Valerio” is just one gem among gems. Richard Thompson’s writing is masterful, painting in broad, vivid stokes. Time indeed stands still as Linda Thompson tells the vivid tale, with a hint of detached anxiety.
… We falter at the sight
We stumble in the mire
Fools who think they see the light
Prepare to balance on the wire
But we learn to watch together,
And feed on what we see above
‘Till our hearts turn like the seasons
And we are acrobats of love
How we wonder, how we wonder
Watching far below
We would all be that great hero
The great Valerio.
Featuring only Linda’s voice and Richard Thompson’s Kensington-style picked acoustic, “The Great Valerio” is dark, yet vivid as it leads the listener to imagine the great fall. Linda Thompson never oversells the proposition, using her voice like the fine instrument it is.
The result is a classic song closing a classic, acclaimed album. “The Great Valerio” still captivates, decades after its creation. Even more fascinating is that this does not represent the creative peak of either Linda or Richard Thompson.