Sometimes a writer winces at the thought of having to ask the obvious but necessary question. So I'm grateful to Teddy Thompson for answering before I can even ask.
BLOODLINES Teddy Thompson, son of legendary folk duo Richard and Linda, harnesses a sweetly debonair country tenor to carry his songs with a certain everyman charm.
"I think there are a lot of people with a lot more talent than me who probably played instruments growing up and had an interest in music," says the 35-year-old rootsy folk-rocker from his home in New York City. "But maybe they didn't believe that it was possible for them because they came from a family of bankers in Des Moines."
And though the singer/songwriter might not have grown up like Richie Rich, he is the son of legendary folk-duo Richard and Linda Thompson. Conceived perhaps during the recording of the couple's 1975's album Pour Down Like Silver (it would not be an anachronism), the younger Thompson spent his earliest days on a Sufi commune before moving on to London through his teen years and then finally settling in the States in the mid-'90s to pursue his career in music.
"I didn't want to jinx it," says Thompson of his earliest songwriting aspirations, which began while he was a sideman in his father's band. "It's hard to believe that you could really make a living doing it. You just bide your time, play a little bit, write some songs, keep your head down until you have something worth saying."
For the trans-Atlantic prodigy with a life lived in music, matters of the heart turned out to be his thing worth saying. The subject of love seemed to come especially effortlessly in his early-2011 break-up-driven concept album, Bella (Decca/Verve Forecast). In Bella's world, being lovelorn feels okay. Maybe — to paraphrase folk singer Greg Brown — a singer like Thompson doesn't have to make love, because love made him.
Although Bella (which was produced with a particularly string-laden pop polish by Strokes/McCartney producer David Kahne) has continuity in that the songs are all related to one particular relationship, the singer considers the pieces to be more like a collection of emotions felt at particular moments — during, after, before the affair — rather than a linear story. It's almost as though love is just really one story that we all experience, and the pieces can be cut and reassembled in any order and it will still make sense.
Laying it all out there isn't without its complexities, though. "Sometimes you think you are saying something about someone or to someone that is really private, and you feel like you are being a bit mercenary by using that moment and putting it in a song," says Thompson, who harnesses a sweetly debonair country tenor to carry his songs with a certain everyman charm. Album highlights like the Jackson Browne–esque "Looking for a Girl" (in which Thompson concedes that that he just needs someone he can stand) and the Orbison-flavored "Tell Me What You Want" are straightforward examples of the subject that Thompson knows best. A heart on a plate, with no bones.