Kid at play

Teddy Thompson ’ s country jag
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  October 16, 2007

CONTRARIAN: The record-label question “How will we be able to sell this?” only set Teddy Thompson more firmly on his path.

Pop shock: Linda Thompson’s Versatile Heart. By Ted Drozdowski
NASHVILLE — Slouching on a Marriott lobby couch in jeans, T-shirt, and sandals, blond-haired Teddy Thompson looks like a California surfer. But the waves this son of British folk-rock legends Linda and Richard Thompson is negotiating are those of the music biz.

When he made Separate Ways (Verve Forecast) last year, Thompson, now 31, steered away from the eclectic, ballad-dominated approach of his homonymous 2000 debut for Virgin. A smartly crafted pop-rock affair built on his silken voice and unabashedly romantic lyrics, the album won him critics’ favor and more listeners, though it failed to bring him anything approaching his parents’ cult success. Now he’s veered farther away with Up Front and Down Low (Verve Forecast), which is mostly a bare-bones collection of country classics incorporating a string quartet.

“It was a lark at first,” he explains the morning after a gig accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and four string players in Nashville. “I’d finished a year of touring and wanted to have fun and record some country songs. I liked the results, so I played it to the record label, and they were enthused. Of course, a couple weeks later they got scared and asked, ‘How will we be able to sell this?’ That made me want to do it even more.”

Thompson’s infatuation with classics like Merle Haggard’s “(My Friends are Gonna Be) Strangers” and George Jones’s “She Thinks I Still Care” is understandable. They boast emotion-soaked lyrics that his gilded voice turns to heartfelt melodrama, as Haggard and Jones did. And the core performances of his trio are deftly framed by guests like Dylan steel-guitarist Greg Leisz, roots country doyen Iris Dement, and his dad, Richard, with string arrangements by Rufus Wainwright. But the practical consideration remains: who’s gonna buy it?

“Good fucking question!”, Thompson trumpets. “I’ve got no idea, so that’s going to be a challenge. I don’t really know who my audience is in general, so I’m getting used to that. My other albums don’t fit into an easy category, so why should this one be different? I think we’ve done this music well, and I’d like people to hear it, but selling it is somebody else’s job. And whatever they think of, I’ll go along with them and do all I can.”

Related: Family affair, Family matters, Folk hero, More more >
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