Teddy Thompson is one of the best living hopes for contemporary music. His songwriting is informed by the poetic touches of country music (he recorded some of his favorites in that vein back in 2007 via Up Front & Down Low). He’s capable of writing impeccable ballads driven by nail-biting narratives. And he can sing. Not sing in the sense of cram a bunch of notes into a tiny space and blurt a bunch of pseudo-soulful garbage but, rather, convince the listener that what we’re hearing coming from Thompson’s mouth is some version of the truth and maybe the quintessential version of it.
He’s also proven himself an able collaborator, whether with his similarly gifted mother Linda on several of her recent and damned near perfect solo efforts, his good friend Rufus Wainwright, or with his entire family on a record that brought together his parents for the first time in 30 years (his father is songwriting legend Richard Thompson) and saw this young red-headed boy come out as the star of the whole affair. (No small feat when you consider the talent pool.)
Additionally, Thompson has continually outdone himself. No two of his solo records have been the same and this time he’s changed things up yet again with an artist equal to his talents. Vocalist Kelly Jones is perhaps best known for her forays into powerful pop music though she’s has also toured with Grammy-winning jazz drummer-composer Brian Blade as a featured singer in his band project Mama Rosa, and co-written with Emmy and Academy Award-winning composer Adam Schlesinger.
Rather than go the route of many contemporary duet records, Thompson and Jones have chosen to take up their own pens and collaborate on the overwhelming majority of the material with Bill DeMain, arriving to the party with 10 songs that could have just as easily been written 60 years ago. This is music that’s focused on the purity of expression.
Like the music of Sam Cooke or Porter Wagoner, “As You Were” and “Better at Lying” express something that the listener has felt before even if they haven’t been able to put those experiences into their own words. It also helps that the vocal performances sound like they’re delivered by folks who have also felt those things and are doing their best to explain ‘em to the rest of us.
Despite a knowledge of the past this isn’t a record that’s stuck in it: “Only Fooling” marries Porter and Dolly sensibilities beside the best of soul and the best of contemporary music as well. In fact, some of the better parts of that song are built on Davey Faraghar’s flawless bass figure and Pete Thomas’s equally impressive drumming.
But more than that, Thompson, Jones and their collaborators have given us a round of tunes that aren’t already classics but are certainly destined to be. Witness “You Can’t Call Me Baby”, “Never Knew You Loved Me Too”, “Make a Wish on Me” and “Wondering”, each of which fills that description and stands beside several others that could easily do so as well.