Family matters

Teddy Thompson takes after the ’rents
By KEN MICALLEF  |  March 28, 2006

GENETIC DISPOSITION: Separate Ways confirms Teddy's place as an intrepid old-school folk-rock composer of substantial gifts.“I wouldn’t really say that my music is introverted and sad,” Teddy Thompson says on the road from a Chicago venue. The 30-year-old heir to British songwriting tradition hesitates to confirm that his latest, Separate Ways (Verve Forecast), is glum or downcast. “I am not sure if that is quite true. The subject matter can be a little sad and also quite bitter and barbed, but I don’t think it is too wussy. I would argue against that.”

Like father and mother, like son: Teddy Thompson, who headlines the Paradise this Saturday, April 1, appears to have inherited his parents’ knack for matching impeccable songcraft (Richard Thompson) with darkly sweet and resonant vocals (Richard’s ex-wife and former partner in song, Linda Thompson). Dropped from Virgin after the release of his 2000 debut, he had it in mind to prove he belongs in the family business, and Separate Ways does confirm him as an intrepid old-school folk-rock composer of substantial gifts. The tortured title track, the pungent “I Should Get Up,” and the caustic country-rock tirade “That’s Enough Out of You” are all buoyed by his meticulous inner dialogue. And like his father, he can be equally acerbic and humorous.

“I feel that there is a bit of a lack of craft these days,” he says when the topic of contemporary songwriting comes up. “A lot of people make records without remembering to write the songs first. There is a big mess of just crappy songs out there.”

That’s not a difficult position to defend. So Thompson has allied himself with that thread of ’70s singer-songwriters for whom putting thoughts to paper in poetic fashion was as much the goal as penning luscious melodies. “I have always been enamored of the song itself — often more than the performance side of it. That is the most important thing — the thing that is going to survive. I take great care with that and great pride in trying to write good songs. That is all it really comes down to. Plenty of people have written great songs in their 20s, but maybe we just forget that now because there are so few.”

Separate Ways is a family affair: Richard delivers his trademark stinging guitar licks; Linda joins in for a hidden-track rendition of the Everly Brothers’ “Take a Message to Mary.” Rufus Wainwright and his sister Martha lend their pipes, and other members of folk-rock royalty also join in: Jenni Muldaur (Geoff and Maria’s daughter) adds background vocals and Richard’s former Fairport Convention colleague Dave Mattacks plays drums.

But none of the cameos comes at the expense of Teddy’s songs. Thompson bares his soul throughout — dark thoughts, mean threats, melancholy musings. From the Appalachian vocal cries in “Separate Ways” to the smack-down lyrics of “That’s Enough Out of You” to the mood of resignation and isolation that underpins “Everybody Move It” and “Altered State,” there’s more than just craft at work here. “If you are really going to consider yourself to be a songwriter and try to do that in a credible way, honesty is the only vital ingredient. There is no way around it. That’s not to say that you can’t allegorize and obfuscate and go around the obvious, but it has to come from an honest place.”

Teddy Thompson + Glenn Kotche | April 1 | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | 617.228.6000

On the Web:
Teddy Thompson: http://www.teddythompson.com/

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Folk hero: Richard Thompson's Free Reed box set. By Brett Milano

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