(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
British singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson moved to New York City to write and record the songs for his new fifth album called Bella.
Rock critic Ken Tucker says that the result is a romantic album that spans an impressively wide range of styles and moods.
(Soundbite of song, Delilah)
Mr. TEDDY THOMPSON (Musician): (Singing) Well, you and I were meant to be. And in the end I know youll see that we can never be just friends. Our only love will never end, Delilah. Oh, Delilah.
KEN TUCKER: Teddy Thompson sings in a keening tenor voice that registers as confident and strong. Then he writes songs about what a weak, flawed, even weaselly man he can be. This contrast is the key to most of the songs on Bella.
On the song that opened this review, "Delilah," he speaks of having to get out of his own way to open himself up to a happiness that he complicates unnecessarily. A bit later on "Over and Over," his first-person narrator says he criticizes and ridicules himself so that no one else can, that isolation is a comfortable place and that repeating myself cuts the fear.
To strip these sentiments from the songs, you'd think you were in for a lot of mopiness. Instead, Bella is bursting with wonderful pop songs such as its lead-off track, "Looking for a Girl."
(Soundbite of song, "Looking for a Girl)
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) I've been looking for a girl who drinks and smokes. Who takes a lot of work but can take a joke. Where does this girl of mine hide herself away? Whoever she is I hope she's on her way.
I've been looking for a girl. I've been looking for a girl. I've been looking for a girl who knows how to love me.
I've been looking for a girl who is good in bed...
TUCKER: "Looking for a Girl," with its surging chorus and clever couplets about looking for a girl who turns my bread into buttered toast could pass as a hit on the American country-music charts and reminds you of this British singer-songwriter's affinity for early rock styles. His third album, Up Front and Down Low, was a collection of country-music covers, and on the new album, "I Feel" has a Buddy Holly Everly Brothers approach to melodic harmony.
(Soundbite of song, "I Feel")
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) It's gone or it's going, this feeling I know it. And there's nothing I can do to bring it back. It was love if I wanted but I chose to ignore it. It was nothing that you did or shouldve done.
I feel so unclear - the rise, the fall, the pain. I feel so much fear - its coming back again. I feel, I feel, I feel.
Theres a road that I travel...
TUCKER: Well, I've made it through three songs without mentioning that Teddy Thompson is the son of Richard and Linda Thompson. Certainly, one way Teddy has distinguished himself from his parents is by stressing his singing over his guitar playing or songwriting. I suspect that's what's behind his continued emphasis on American song craft, as well.
Still, he doesn't shy away from his status as the son of folk-rock royalty. He's played in his father's band, in Rosanne Cash's band, helped write much of his mother's 2002 comeback album and has performed with other music-family siblings such as Rufus Wainwright.
On one of the best songs on Bella, he performs a duet with Jenni Muldaur, the daughter of Maria and Geoff Muldaur. That song, "Tell Me What You Want," is cast as a lovely back-and-forth between two lovers dancing around their mutual desires and needs.
(Soundbite of song, Tell Me What You Want)
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Baby, tell me what you want. Ill do anything you want.
Ms. JENNI MULDAUR (Musician): (Singing) I want a love that can be true. Someone wholl love me through and through.
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Baby, I can give you that. No problem, oh, I can give you that.
Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) Well, yeah, you said that once before. And then you walked right out my door.
Mr. THOMPSON and Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) Baby, tell me what you want.
TUCKER: Moving across the attractive surfaces of Bella is a fog of regret and free-floating melancholy. The word or name "Bella" never appears on the album, although Thompson has said in interviews that it's the name of someone he was once close to. The album feels like the chronicle of a man coming to terms with missed opportunities for an intimacy that only drives him deeper within himself. This would be a self-indulgent downer had Teddy Thompson not transmuted these sentiments into something lively and beautiful.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Teddy Thompson's album Bella. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song, Take Care of Yourself)
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Its time for us to part. Yeah, its best for us to part. Oh, but I love you. Ooh, I love you. Take care of yourself. Ill miss you.
The nights are long alone. I sit alone and moan. Oh, cause I love you. Ooh, ooh, I love you. Take care of yourself. Ill miss you.