Being the progeny of famous musicians isn't always a guaranteed ticket to stardom. For every Rufus Wainwright or Jakob Dylan, there's an Adam Cohen, whose band, Low Millions, didn't quite produce the same genius lyrics that dad Leonard did. Or there's Sean Lennon and half-brother Julian, who have yet to come close to the impact their Beatle dad had on pop culture.
Not that these offspring don't have the requisite talent to succeed; in fact, most of them weren't even given a solid chance to grow beyond their indelible monikers. Take singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson -- son of folkies Richard and Linda Thompson -- who was dropped by Virgin Records after the release of his 2000 self-titled debut, even though the album's dusky twang and Thompson's velvet-touch croon seemed perfect for Triple-A radio.
Looking back now, Thompson is pragmatic about the whole experience. "Basically, they didn't get what they were expecting," he says via phone from New York City. "They would have liked a more commercial-sounding record." Being dropped from his label ended up being a blessing in disguise for the thirty-year-old.
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"There was no point sitting at home and thinking you're going to write a whole record by sitting in your bedroom," he says, "so I decided to get out and do some other things. I went on tour with Rufus, did some work with my mum on her record, that sort of thing. Work begat work.
"It's good to play with different people and soak up some other influences," he goes on. "Rufus is a great person to play with, and my mum is pretty great, too. It all contributed to helping me make the next record."
But despite his numerous collaborations, Thompson deliberately set out to write and record by himself. He didn't seek out a label, manager or booking agent; instead, he chose to record songs in small batches and come back to them whenever he had the money or wasn't on the road. While Thompson eventually settled on Brad Albetta as co-producer of his latest effort, Separate Ways, his goal of recording an entire album and then shopping it around didn't change.
"I just figured it was a much better way to get them the finished product already, rather than what they might be getting," he says. "It's like, 'Here it is. Do you want to put it out or not?' I was very intent on having songs that I really loved, believed in, so I wouldn't get sick of playing them. When I was throwing things away and doing songs again and changing bits and listening to things endlessly, even when I hated the guitar sound and the way I sang it, I never got sick of the song, which was really a good litmus test. Most of them I didn't get sick of, and those are the ones I kept on the record, 'cause I figured that meant something."
Thompson's instincts and piecemeal approach worked. Ways is a cohesive album full of moody barnstorming and sandpaper folk that conjures Crowded House's meticulously orchestrated vignettes and the intricate guitar work of Dire Straits. On the crunchy, vaguely glam "You Made It," Thompson eerily cops the trembling yowl of Thom Yorke, while a haunting cello matches the stormy mood of the title track, a searing tale of breakups and heartbreak.
Judging from the musical maturity of Ways, Thompson's adjusted quite well to life as a musician who also happens to have legendary parents.
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