Ah, women…where would singer/songwriters (or at least most male singer/songwriters) be without them? Countless songs have been written over the years about the search for the perfect gal -- and what to do if you should ever find her -- and Teddy Thompson's fifth disc, Bella, is a loose concept album about the joys and pitfalls of the pursuit of the beautiful woman. Teaming with producer David Kahne (whose credits run the gamut from Wilco to Tony Bennett) and backed by Thompson's road band (Daniel Mintseris on keys, Jeff Hill on bass, and Ethan Eubanks on drums) along with a few guests (among them Teddy's father Richard Thompson and Dave Schramm of the Schramms), Bella recalls the poppier sound Teddy was reaching for on 2008's A Piece of What You Need, but this time the results sound and feel a good bit warmer and more organic. Kahne makes Thompson and his accompanists sound as polished and professional as you could hope for without squeezing the life out of their performances, and the subtle but well-executed string charts add an elegant melodic veneer to tunes like "Delilah," "Gotta Have Someone," and "Over and Over" that serves them well. Kahne is also smart enough to know Teddy Thompson is the star of this show, and he presents his headliner at his best advantage; Thompson's vocals are excellent, hitting the right note on the swaggering "Looking for a Girl," the self-depreciating "The One I Can't Have," and the lovelorn "Take Care of Yourself," and if the songs aren't quite as rich as what Thompson offered on his self-titled debut or Separate Ways, he's not afraid to write lyrics about love that consider how it can hurt as much as it can heal. Thompson can put an artful barb into his stories when he wants while wrapping them around melodies that are evocative and hooky at once. Teddy Thompson doesn't answer all his questions about women on Bella (of course, for most guys, that would take a box set), but the ones he ponders here are smart and come from the heart, and it makes for an album that will please longtime fans while encouraging newcomers to hear what he has to offer.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming