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A Sort of Homecoming, on the 'Day After Tomorrow'

Linda Thompson crafts a tender remake of Tom Waits' antiwar gem.
Linda Thompson crafts a tender remake of Tom Waits' antiwar gem.

Following a handful of classic albums with then-husband Richard Thompson, Linda Thompson's singing career collapsed in the mid-'80s: Never a big seller, she lost her voice in the literal sense when hysterical dysphonia made it impossible for her to perform. Somehow, she's regained the ability to sing in recent years, launching an unlikely comeback just as her son Teddy was making a name for himself. Now, five years after the release of Fashionably Late, Thompson returns with the characteristically lovely Versatile Heart.

Though Thompson remains a formidable songwriter, the most bruisingly affecting track here is her tender remake of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's 2004 antiwar gem "Day After Tomorrow." Like so many great songs about incalculably complex issues, "Day After Tomorrow" views the ethics and impact of war on the smallest possible scale, functioning entirely from the perspective of a disillusioned soldier preparing to return home.

The song addresses some of the grandest rhetorical questions surrounding war — "Tell me, how does God choose? / Whose prayers does He refuse?" — but it cuts deepest when its narrator dreams of shoveling snow in Illinois and ruminates on the day-to-day struggle for survival. ("I am not fighting for justice / I'm not fighting for freedom / I'm just fighting for my life here / and another day in this world, dear.") Wisely, it never tethers its narrative to any specific conflict, instead painting war as a futile rite of passage, as universal and eternal as fear, doubt and the gravitational pull of home.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

This segment originally ran on Aug. 2, 2007.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)