No sophomore slump for Teddy Thompson. On the contrary, his second outing Separate Ways is altogether a more muscular and cohesive affair than his 2001 self-titled debut. He’s aided and abetted by dad Richard and mom Linda (on the hidden bonus track), in addition to a fairly hefty handful of other standouts, including Garth Hudson, Dave Mattacks, Smokey Hormel, Tony Trischka and the singing Wainwright sibs Martha and Rufus – oh, and another folksinging couple’s offspring, Jenni Muldaur.
But Teddy’s in center ring with his songwriting and his singing, delivered in his attention-grabbing sweet-with-an-edge tenor. “I wanna shine so bright it hurts,” he whines in the opening track, a wish that’s answered in the dark mid-tempo rocker “You Made It,” the penultimate track, which shows the dark side of celebrity.
Thompson has obviously been rubbing shoulders with top-notch songwriters all his life, including his father and, lately, the likes of Leonard Cohen. It shows in his darkly deft turns of phrase, often juxtaposed with upbeat melodies like the radio-friendly “I Should Get Up.”
The title track particularly stands out. Set in a noirish soundscape with bowed bass and brushed snares, it’s a passive-aggressive breakup song from a young man learning the ropes of heartbreak: “Not all who love are blind,” he sings, “… we forgive too much and never speak our minds.” Another is the dark “Think Again” in which he plays the part of “a sleaze” who takes advantage of a naive girl: “Hard to believe I could be / Someone’s idea of love…” The next track, “Enough Out Of You,” is a rockabilly affair that definitely draws on RT’s style of sardonic wit, a series of one-liner insults: “I’ve tried to get you out of my life / But you seem to enjoy being used.”
The album finishes on two strong notes, the pensive 9/11 rumination “Frontlines,” and a hidden track that echoes the one on his debut album, which was a duet with Emmylou Harris on an Everly Brothers’ song. This time it’s with mom Linda, on the Everlys’ “Take A Message to Mary” (penned by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant).
Teddy has a ready-made audience in fans of his folks, but an even more natural constituency among his own generation’s fans of the Wainwrights, Conor Oberst, Iron & Wine and the like. If he continues to mature at the rate he’s shown on this album, he should be well on his way.
(Verve Forecast, 2006)