British-born singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson has gone country before. He notably released a widely lauded tribute to classic American country music in 2007 called Upfront & Down Low. The album featured chestnuts such as Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You”, Dickie Lee Lipscomb’s “She Thinks I Still Care”, and Liz Anderson’s “(From Now on All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers”. His latest record, My Love of Country, seems a reprise of the earlier one.
This is Thompson’s eighth solo full-length album. He has put out several records of original material between this one and the previous country LP. My Love of Country is a short (ten songs, less than 30 minutes long) dip into the music of Teddy’s musical past. He has said these are the songs he heard and was attracted to as a youth. While it may be a stretch to believe the 47-year-old son of folk-rock icons Richard and Linda Thomson as a kid was listening to the B-sides of country singles, as several of these cuts were, it’s possible he heard the more popular tracks here. One doesn’t need to be a country music fan to be familiar with songs such as Patsy Cline‘s “I Fall to Pieces” and Ray Charles‘ “Cryin’ Time”. These are still played on the radio, placed on movie and TV soundtracks, and serve as themes for podcasts and games.
Thompson’s versions of the well-known cuts are not as good as the originals. How could they be? While Thompson has a pleasant voice and a nuanced touch, he’s no Patsy or Ray. That’s not an insult, just a fact. Thompson knows that many talented artists before him have recorded these cuts. He’s not competing with the others as much as honoring them.
For example, his rendition of Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me”, a big hit for Eddy Arnold in 1956 and Ray Charles in 1962, modestly approaches the material. The song moves to a steady tempo. Producer and multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield keeps things simple. The music in the background doesn’t inflate the proceedings as much as it presents a simple backdrop. Unlike Arnold or Charles, Teddy’s in control. In this way, Thompson resembles the song’s protagonist, who puts on a false face so the object of his love doesn’t know the pain he feels.
Vocally, Thompson is accompanied by a plethora of major talents, including Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Logan Ledger, and Aoife O’Donovan (on different tracks, not at the same time). They help turn some lesser-known songs, like Charlie Louvin’s I Don’t Love You Anymore and Dolly Parton‘s “Love and Learn”, into familiar seeming standards.
The most unusual track is Thompson’s rendition of his father’s tale of drunken debauchery, “I’ll Regret It All in the Morning”, originally appearing on Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1975 record Hokey Pokey (written before Teddy was born). The singer doesn’t atone for his behavior as much not care whom he has hurt. “Whiskey helps to clear my head / Bring it with you into bed / If I beat you nearly dead / I’ll regret it all in the morning,” Teddy sings over a gently strummed guitar. The contrast between the wickedness of the lyrics and the softly played music allows the singer to have his cake and eat it too. He can feel bad about not feeling bad.
My Love of Country doesn’t break new ground. Thompson offers a short jaunt into classic country and shows his appreciation of the music of the past. He implies that these songs ring just as true today as they have in the past.