This much covered Richard Thompson tune was originally recorded by the English folk singer-songwriter with his then-wife Linda Thompson on their 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver. Thompson's original version segues into a solo guitar performance of Scots composer James Scott Skinner's "Dargai."
The couple had adopted the Sufi faith the previous year and subsequently moved into a commune in London. The songs on Pour Down Like Silver reflected their new faith and this song is an example of Thompson writing in a centuries old Sufic tradition of expressing divine love in earthly terms. Though it was sung by Linda on the album, Richard Thompson has continued to feature the tune in his own live shows for many years, which indicates the song's deep personal significance.
Artists who have covered the track include the Blind Boys of Alabama, Mary Black, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and The Corrs. In an interview with Rock's Backpages, the Blind Boys of Alabama leader Clarence Fountain said: "I like Richard's writing. We did 'The Dimming of the Day' on the album Beat The Retreat. I could sing his songs and I could see where he's coming from. His lyrics hit me just right."
Bluegrass singer-songwriter Alison Krauss covered this on her 2011 album with Union Station, Paper Airplane. She told UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph why she decided to record her own version: "I've never met Richard Thompson but I heard the song from T-Bone Burnett when we were working on the second version of Raising Sand. (Burnett had produced her first Grammy-winning collaboration with Robert Plant and they were experimenting with a follow-up). When I heard the song, I thought 'Oh, I can't take that on. Oh, I can't. But T-Bone said 'give it a shot'. We moved on to another project but I kept thinking about the song and how I could make it OK. Then I thought, well nobody has done a bluegrass version so we tried making it more sparse." Krauss added: "I just think it is one of the greatest songs for a woman to sing. Not that it wouldn't work for a man but the way the story is told and the way that Linda Thompson used to sing it out there, well I couldn't deal with the emotion of it. I would think about Linda being sad when I was singing and listening and then I would get sad. I have also just recorded it for a new Transatlantic Sessions and we had a beautiful fiddle player and I would look at her and think what if she's sad and we'd get into this whole kinda routine. I don't know any woman who doesn't react to that song the way I have. It's just the purest, most clearly stated story about that place where a woman has lost love and where you don't ever want to admit to being that broken. You want to have some pride left and the fact that the woman in the song is so stretched and has let go of her pride but will still say all the things that are so important to her. That moves me so much."