For those who thought Teddy Thompson's self-titled first album was a fluke, think again. There is no sophomore slump on Separate Ways. It marks Thompson's debut with Verve Forecast. One has to wonder if -- and hope that -- they know they have a major talent on their roster. Separate Ways is a beautifully constructed collection of moody pop songs that reflect Thompson's melancholy yet blackly good-humored way of looking at the world. With able co-production provided by Brad Albetta, Thompson knows how to stack his musical deck with fine players. For starters, a host of second-generation offspring appear here: Martha and Rufus Wainwright appear as backing vocalists, as does Jenni Muldaur on a couple of tracks. His dad, guitar slinger Richard Thompson, plays on five tracks, and former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks and the Band's venerable Garth Hudson both play on one tune. There's even a hidden track on which Thompson sings with his mother. There is a country tinge to these proceedings, but that's all. British folk, rock, and even the blues all make appearances inside a musical web woven by Thompson. "Shines So Bright" opens the album. It's a humorous yet deadly serious way to look at fame and fortune. The Wainwrights and Muldaur help out here. The humor is black, which makes the message of the tune -- "I want to shine so bright it hurts" -- ring poignantly. "I Should Get Up" -- with the unmistakable sound of Richard Thompson's guitar -- looks at depression with a keen eye for detail: "I should get up, I should go out/I'm sure there's something I can't do without...Live underground pretty soon/That's where you lie/But I feel so warm inside my room/I'm safe and sound/Inside my tomb...The world goes on without me...Nobody misses the quiet kid." It's a tough, unflinching view, crooned elegantly, and it rocks. "I Wish It Was Over," with Dad on the guitar again, is a broken love song that sinks to the depths of a kind of despair of attachment and the fear of change. The beautiful cello of Julia Kent and the twin guitars of Teddy and Smokey Hormel weave their own forlorn magic as in a desperate amorous dance as Thompson's voice just drips with hurt, anger, and the resolve to let go. The confession and regret in the country waltz that is "Think Again" is startling: "She was naïve/And I was a sleaze...Hard to believe/That I could be someone's idea of love/I should have been out of reach/Baby I'm not that strong...Think again/This isn't what you want." Albetta and Thompson play everything themselves. It's countered with "That's Enough Out of You," a scorching faux rockabilly number that spits and snarls with Mattacks and Richard tearing it up as Teddy sings his ass off and trades leads with Dad. While the album officially closes with "Frontlines," a searing ballad, its true closer is a cover of the Everly Brothers classic "Take a Message to Mary" that Teddy sings with his mom, Linda. It's performed with just an acoustic guitar and the pair singing sweetly, bringing the sadness of the tune in which a jailed man asks a friend to carry a lie to his bride-to-be, so she won't find out where he is or what he's done. This is a gorgeous, tight, and utterly magical outing.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek