Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Teddy Thompson: Upfront & Down Low

Prior to Monday at around 3pm I had been listening almost non-stop to the Dylan, Norwegian stuff and Begonias of previous Septabulous* posts. Since then, post-visit to Egg Records in Newtown, it has been All About Teddy. All about Teddy, and his new long player Upfront & Down Low.

OMG YOU GUYS! This is brilliant. The SMH review is good for background, saving me the bother. Good boy, MSM! You're not totally redundant yet, bless.

So. Teddy. I think I saw him at the Leonard Cohen thingo at the Opera House that one time. Being only a casual-though-academically-appreciative Richard Thompson person he didn't set off many lights. This has changed. We are lit up like a Christmas tree now, we are.

The way the Brits mail ordered the blues, took it apart and sent it back to the states is well known. The tradition of them doing it to country is much, much smaller of course. Much more obscure, in "side projects" and generally dribs and drabs over the decades rather than a Generation Defining Movement. But there's still probably a BBC audio documentary in it. I will listen to the most derivative and unoriginal country music and love it because ... the original is so good, why wouldn't I want to hear a copy? Low rent romance, second rate pastiche. It works.

However. Bringing something new to a familiar tradition can thrill. Upfront & Down Low is a totally gorgeous album of only the absolute richest of countrypolitan sounds, but with subtle and alluring touches. The strings are Nashville but sometimes very much not, those are very English violins. Just a hint, here and there. Lyle Lovett is a name mentioned in many reviews but surely we must also nod to Nick Lowe.

The Teddy tenor sells it all with heart rending sorrow and the band is perfect (including Marc Ribot and Thompson pere). Iris DeMent, Tift Merrit and Jenni Muldaur on harmonies. Some of the songs are the most familiar in the canon, like "She Thinks I Still Care" -- hard to do badly and of course he doesn't. The "secret track" is for mine the killer: "Don't Ask Me to Be Friends." Recorded by the Everlys and Cliff Richard in the 60s. and apparently no one else. Having sought out all extant versions on iTunes I can tell you Teddy's is the definitive and lifts it from poppy B side to First XI. Seriously, I've still got the stitches where it ripped out my heart and bounced it off the walls.


No? Allow me to continue then. The other killer. "Down Low" is the only Thompson original and it perhaps has a vibe which stands out it its modern type of brooding fatalism but fits in with in the classic type of brooding fatalism which runs through country. Whipping out the Bob Luman novelty "Let's Think About Living" feels like a friendly in-joke. Chet Flippo says "the song rejects" Teddy's version of "(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers" but, that's in the ear of the beholder and for mine, that song not only copes but positively prospers in this arrangement. It isn't a "British drawing room arrangement" actually, but someone needs to tell him your average British drawing room holds more perverted secrets, thwarted desires and unspoken despair than a David Lynch box set.

Last year Van Morrison released a country album. I didn't like it much, although a lot did. This is was hoping for, all that and more.

I'm also pleased this has fallen upon us since I'll be out of the country from early November and so any Best Of '07 will have to be an early one. Like, in October. Looking back, I won't be lacking for a top ten.

* Septabulous is the official name of my campaign to post once a day this month.

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