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Teddy Thompson: A Primer

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Nov 13, 2014
Category: Rock

Keeping the flame lit at the Teddy Thompson Fan Club & Cult — well, it’s been a lonely vigil. Lonely, but rewarding. No one writes a crisper line ("I wish when the phone rang/It wasn’t always you") or has a bigger vocal range, or knows how to rip your heart out when you least expect it. So we soldier on. My wife — I sometimes call her "the future ex-Mrs. Thompson" — continues with her crushette. I push his music. And, year after year, he operates just under the radar.

Suddenly that’s changed.

A while back, Teddy got the idea of making a family album, and he dragged his extremely divorced parents into the project. Other siblings and extended family members signed on, and now we have “Family.” [To buy the CD and get a free MP3 download from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]


Especially the New York Times, which published a massive profile of Teddy and his family in the magazine. It’s a wonderfully sardonic piece, because that’s the way Teddy is. [Here’s a snippet from one of our conversations. JK: “Do you read?” TT: “I can read. I don’t.”] And the video is uncommonly revealing.

But you are not yet One of Us. You don’t know the Secret Handshake. You can’t quote lyrics.

So let’s get you up to speed. With a primer. A look at his career, with lots of videos so you can cut through the hype and judge for yourselves.

Start with the bio. In his case, a gift and a burden. His father is Richard Thompson, one of England’s legendary songwriters and guitarists. His mother is Linda Thompson, an English folkie with a glorious voice. Teddy, born in 1976, grew up listening to music made before 1959 — rock’s first golden age. In school, he played in bands. He must have shown promise; one of his first professional credits is playing guitar behind Emmylou Harris.

From the beginning, his signature style has been self-deprecation, with despair lurking. Almost all of his songs are about romance: needing it, resenting the need, doing everything he can to screw it up, desperately trying to put the pieces back together. Along the way, he’s the wittiest songwriter since Randy Newman, and it’s impossible to listen to his songs without joining him in the joke:

I wanna be a huge star
That hangs out in hotel bars
I wanna wake up at noon
In somebody else’s room
I wanna shine so bright it hurts

This is a guy who dares to ask: Why do anything? “I should get up/ I should go out/ There must be something/ I can’t do without.”

Difficult? He revels in it. “Not an easy place to be/ in my arms,” for example. But watch how thorniness loses its bite when the music rocks. (Yes, that’s his friend Rufus Wainwright as the Elvis-like organist.)

Every once in a while, he drops the mask and writes with purity and feeling:

If possible, Teddy Thompson sings even better than he writes. His vocal range is vast. He can effortlessly ascend into Roy Orbison territory; he can growl and snap. And he can, in subtle snippets, deliver riffs from every period in pop music. Emphasis: pop. Teddy Thompson plays rock and roll, but in its most accessible form. Which is why admirers like me wonder why he isn’t huge — he was born for FM radio. Oops. Forgot. There is none.

His first CD, “Teddy Thompson,” is just fine. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. To download the MP3 from Amazon, click here.]

Next is Separate Ways, his first masterpiece — by which I mean: every single song a winner. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. To download the MP3 from Amazon, click here.]

He indulged himself with a country CD, Up Front and Down Low, which is a great deal better — and certainly more authentic — than most of what comes out of Nashville. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. To download the MP3 from Amazon, click here.]

He very quickly followed that — because he was afraid his record company might drop him — with A Piece of What You Need. He calls it his “happy record.” Translation: "Well, maybe not happy, but upbeat. Actually, maybe not upbeat, but it does have some up-tempo songs. Anyway, it’s as close as I’ve gotten to making the record I’ve always wanted to make." [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. To download the MP3 from Amazon, click here.]

His latest solo effort is Bella, named for an ex-girlfriend, just to stick it to her. What can I say? I love it. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.

Would a booming career make Teddy Thompson happy? Dunno. But this would be a good time to get ahead of the curve. Join the cult? We’re so waiting.