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Teddy Thompson Finds Beauty in ‘Dark, Bitter’ Places

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In 2007, British-born musician Teddy Thompson took something of a detour on his career path — an album of country music covers in which he offered versions of tunes originally recorded by the likes of Ernest Tubb, George Jones and Merle Haggard. While the singer-songwriter’s new album, ‘Bella,’ out this week, returns him to form — that form being original material covering a wide, genre-defying spectrum from folk to rock and back again — he maintains his high regard for classic country music, and voices concern that the genre has lost its humorous, sarcastic and clever edge.

In an interview with the New York Times, Teddy cites a pair of lines from the 1989 Randy Travis hit, ‘Is It Still Over’ (“since my phone still ain’t ringing, I assume it still ain’t you”) as the type of cleverness largely missing in contemporary country. Not that today’s country fan won’t enjoy the witty wordplay and impossibly gorgeous, hook-laden melodies that abound on ‘Bella”s 11 tracks. While it may not be a “country” record, country music is never far from the singer-songwriter’s mind.

“Country music was the music I was brought up on,” says Teddy. “It’s the music that’s closest to my heart and the music that speaks to me the most, and it’s always been a big influence on my own songwriting. I was obsessed with country music when I was a kid, and it’s definitely had a huge influence on the way I write songs. I was always attracted to songs that had a brilliant pun or a clever turn of phrase, but came from a dark, bitter place. As a writer, I’ve always gravitated towards that feeling.”

Born to folk-rock royalty, Teddy’s dad is guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson, whose songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, among others. His mother is singer Linda Thompson, simply one of the most beautifully-voiced women ever committed to record. Teddy’s own soaring, mournful vocal quality, often favorably compared to Roy Orbison, is tempered with a sarcastic, quintessentially British wit. But the folk-rock label can (as with most labels) be misleading, as on each of the five albums since his brilliant self-titled debut in 2000, he has covered so much more ground; much of it coming from, as he notes “a dark, bitter place,” then turning right around to offer a healthy dose of (self-deprecating) humor.

Teddy has toured the U.S. in the past, and was also featured in Rosanne Cash‘s touring band in the early 2000′s. He’s slated to return to the States on tour in the spring. ‘Bella’ is out now on the Verve Forecast label.

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