There's a reason it takes some artists years to release new material. In Linda Thompson's case, she took a 17-year hiatus between her acclaimed One Clear Moment solo debut and 02's solid, tongue-in-cheekily titled Fashionably Late, so the appearance of Versatile Heart a mere half-decade later is relatively sudden.
Judging by the class and polish of the disc, Thompson's protracted pace is the mark of a musician who's picky in the best possible sense. It feels as though every detail of this album is carefully chosen, including the specific vocalists who back the singer/songwriter on particular tracks. Antony's flamboyant vibrato wraps around Thompson's measured, aching sigh on the string-laced Beauty, while Susan McKeown and Eliza Carthy chime in with bright, classic harmonies on the straightforward folk of Whisky, Bob Copper And Me.
Thompson's range on the album is tremendous - she shifts from mid-tempo saloon rockabilly to plaintive folk to maudlin roots ballads with ease, and her careful delivery authoritatively convinces you she was born to sing each style. The production is similarly thoughtful; long-time Thompson collaborator Edward Haber keeps a light hand and leaves room around her voice. A bonus: the gorgeous album-closing string arrangement by Robert Kirby, noted for his work with Nick Drake.