Out There

Teddy Thompson
Teddy Thompson
(Virgin Records)
Rickie Lee Jones
It's Like This
(Artemis Records)
He's the son of Richard and Linda Thompson--hence, the no-shit CD review, since Teddy's the heir to more than three decades' worth of giddy accolades and piss-poor sales--and dear ol' dad shows up on five of the debut's 10 singalongs. But the 24-year-old Teddy, who lacks his pop's guitar prowess and makes up for it by singing real pretty, might as well be the offspring of Jackson Browne and James Taylor, especially if he was conceived while For Everyman and Gorilla were playing on the hi-fi. After six listens--five of which were out of Professional Obligation, because there damned sure won't be a seventh--it's still hard to tell whether that's a good or bad thing, like it makes a difference anymore since even their detractors begrudge them respect, which all the good little whores gain upon surviving middle age. "Waaaaaake up, everybody's sleeping/Daylight has a way of creeping up when you're in love/When you're in looooove," Teddy sings during the disc's opening moments, and it sounds like he's still napping; seems even the sound of Teddy's own voice knocks him out. Six times around, and still I've no idea what he's on about; then, it's hard to pay attention to the words when the music keeps lulling you to sleep.

Knocking Teddy for not sounding like his dad is like picking on Muhammad Ali's daughter for fighting like a girl. Richard's a scabrous songwriter, a hoarse singer, and a technical whiz on the guitar; Teddy's the polar opposite, a sentimentalist with a soft voice and a softer touch. Little wonder, then, he hooked up with fellow son-of-a-rocker Rufus Wainwright for two songs ("Missing Children," an aptly named co-write, and "So Easy," a guest-vocals appearance that goes down, well...), since both share a taste for the maudlin, the sticky-sweet, and the big-bland. The only difference is Rufus wants to be Van Dyke Parks or Randy Newman too, while Teddy's content to pretend it's 1971 and he's Mud Slide Slim, without the smack habit to keep things at least interesting. The debut's produced by Joe Henry and features poptopian Jon Brion, which ought to keep sales down, and rumor has it Emmylou Harris guests. Then, when does she not?

Joe Jackson and Ben Folds lend four helping hands to the latest by Rickie Lee Jones, who at least earned her right to sound like a 1970s vestige; she is one, ya know. Her third album of covers (following 1983's 10-inch EP Girl at Her Volcano and 1991's Pop Pop) is her first release since the drowsy drecknotronica Ghostyhead in 1997, a disc so popular among the fanatics it's now out of print. This go-around, the playlist includes not only jazz standards ("Someone to Watch Over Me," "On the Street Where You Live"), but also the eclectic essentials, among them laconic versions of Traffic's "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids," the latter of which is essential if only for the moment when Jones and Jackson (sounds like a law firm) start snarling about how they "don't give a fuck about anybody else." If she did, it's doubtful Jones would cover Marvin Gaye ("Trouble Man"), which is like Sebastian Cabot doing Dylan--a novelty, but very, very beside the point. But the disc closes on the highest low point possible, another Jackson-Jones duet: "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story, which only proves these two belong in the best piano bar in the world.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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