Cooking Vinyl

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones

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The best harmony duet singing always confounds basic arithmetic. One plus one, instead of equaling two, suddenly yields an unexpected third thing. An upper-case ONE. A deep vibration. A universal hum that encompasses both male and female viewpoints and conveys more subtle shades of emotion than a single voice can. On Little Windows, the debut album by Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, the duo have that kind of ONEness.

Listening to their seamless blend and the way they turn the corners of every phrase with precision and tonal beauty, you might assume that they’ve been singing together for half their lives. But they haven’t. And as you listen to exquisitely-wrought songs like the stunning, goosebump-inducing “Don’t Remind Me” and the unshakably catchy “Wondering,” you might also think, surely, these are covers of old classics. But they’re not.

What makes Little Windows so remarkable is that Teddy and Kelly are relatively recent collaborators, and the material is newly minted. But then, neither are strangers to the art of harmonizing and writing great songs.

The son of folk-rock legends Richard and Linda Thompson, Teddy once said he didn’t listen to any music made after 1959 until he was 16. And the imprint of influences like Sam Cooke and Hank Williams is deeply evident in his soulful sound, and on standout solo albums like Bella and Upfront & Down Low.  A longtime member of Rufus Wainwright’s touring band, Teddy has also collaborated with such artists as Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter. In 2014, the New York Times called him “one of the most gifted singer-songwriters of his generation.”

Best known for her 2010 album SheBANG!, which Power Popaholic called “a practically flawless 28 minutes of power pop,” and Melon, an EP of beautiful acoustic duets with Mike Viola, Kelly Jones has also toured with Grammy-winning jazz drummer-composer Brian Blade as a featured singer in his band project Mama Rosa, and co-written with Emmy and Academy Award-winning composer Adam Schlesinger.

She first heard Teddy in 2011, singing live on KCRW radio in Los Angeles. But a few months later, during a gig at Largo in L.A., Teddy invited Kelly on stage to harmonize on an old George Jones song. Their voices fell into an immediate accord – Teddy’s rich swell balancing Kelly’s sweet and confidential tone.

Shortly after, they cut two songs in a studio. An easy, enjoyable test run. All signs pointed toward making an album. Busy with their respective careers, they carved out time when and where they could. Teddy lives in New York, Kelly in L.A. So began a bi-coastal, multi-seasonal creative volley. Some songs were penned in summer, in an orange stucco bungalow surrounded by palm trees and cactuses. Others arrived during fall and winter, in a Greenwich Village high-rise with a skyline view.

With a batch of sixteen songs, Teddy and Kelly auditioned a couple producers, tried a few sessions, then found the perfect foil in pop whiz Mike Viola. An acclaimed artist himself, Viola co-produced the latest albums by Jenny Lewis, and Ryan Adams, and in 2015, toured as Adams’ guitarist.

Standing side by side in the vocal booth, Teddy and Kelly sang to the accompaniment of an ace backing band of Pete Thomas (drums), Davey Faragher (bass), Stevie Elliott (guitar) and Daniel Clarke (keys). “I chose those players because they’re all great listeners and know how to support great singers,” says Viola. There was much laughter, much feeling, and more than a bit of magic that found its way onto the magnetic tape.

“This project was very much three people who can already write great songs coming together to maybe write even better songs,” says Teddy. “And I think it was easier for me to enjoy this record and to love these songs because I didn’t write them on my own. It’s a collaboration and I can see it a bit more clearly.  I think I went into this thinking this was something other than a Teddy Thompson record. But now I feel like it’s my next record. It just came out so well and it’s a beautiful record, and I’m excited to play it and tour with it.”