Another Country

A British crooner puts his spin on brokenhearted tunes from Nashville’s early years

Star-Telegram staff writer

At first blush, the son of an acclaimed husband-wife folk duo from England might seem an odd fit with the quintessentially American, done-me-wrong works of George Jones or Ernest Tubb.

But the gifted Teddy Thompson, said offspring of Richard and Linda Thompson, does these Nashville chestnuts proud on his newest studio album, the self-produced Upfront and Down Low. Country to the core, Thompson’s soulful, limber voice wraps itself around these timeless tunes like velvet. Not content to simply provide competent re-creations of yesteryear’s classics, Thompson often re-interprets songs entirely, putting his own distinctive stamp on tracks such as I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone and Change of Heart. By record’s end, you’ll feel as though you’ve spent all night in a run-down bar just past the edge of town, plugging one coin after another into the jukebox.

The one constant through all 12 tracks (one Thompson original — a duet with Jenni Muldaur titled Down Low blends seamlessly with the covers) is the artist’s conviction; his passion and earnest authority no doubt do traditionalist Nashville’s heart a world of good. At a time when such genre icons as Porter Wagoner and Charlie Louvin are enjoying victory laps, a clear-eyed youngster paying such a stirring tribute only reaffirms the material’s quality. It’s hard to picture anyone sitting down to record Kenny Chesney’s or Toby Keith’s catalog decades from now.

The album’s peculiar pedigree doesn’t stop with the vocalist; the well-deployed string arrangements provide an air of decayed elegance on several tracks, courtesy of longtime Thompson pal Rufus Wainwright as well as veteran English arranger Robert Kirby, who worked closely with Nick Drake. Eschewing pedal steel curlicues and smokin’ fiddle licks, Kirby and Wainwright adorn these tracks with a distinctly austere, anti-honky-tonk precision that underscores the inherent pathos in every song.

If you’re unfamiliar with Thompson, you’re not alone — his career has been largely spent on the fringes, recording two albums of original material (a self-titled 2000 debut and its follow-up, last year’s Separate Ways), touring with Rosanne Cash as part of her band and popping up on movie soundtracks as diverse as Brokeback Mountain and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

But don’t weep for this lesser-known artist. You might yearn for him to step into the spotlight, but his lower profile affords him the opportunity to make creatively stimulating, left-field records like Upfront and Down Low. Bittersweet and frequently brilliant, it’s a disc worth searching for.

Download this: I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone

Teddy Thompson

Upfront and Down Low

**** 4 of 5 stars

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