Sounds Like: Loretta Lynn for the Instagram generation
For Fans of: Kacey Musgraves, Nikki Lane, Miranda Lambert
Why You Should Pay Attention: Thompson grew up studying one of her country idols from backstage. Lynn is her third cousin and a major influence on Thompson's songs rooted in true stories. ("Pregnant at the Prom" was inspired by her own mother.) At 18, this "hillbilly from East Tennessee" peeled out of her tiny hometown of Sevierville (birthplace of Dolly Parton) for Nashville, where she cut her teeth at the iconic honky-tonk Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. Her tenacity paid off: Scott Borchetta recently signed Thompson to his Big Machine Label Group, whose Valory Music Co. imprint will release Thompson's debut album later this year. She's currently on the road with Jennifer Nettles and Brandy Clark as part of CMT's Next Women of Country Tour.
She Says: "When I first started writing with other people, I'd go in and say, 'All right, here's the deal: It's gotta be really country, no pop, and there can't be no man-bashing. Because if anyone is cheating, it's gonna be me, by God. And no love songs.' I actually got fired from Tootsie's because my set was just too old-school. I saw Loretta the other day and told her that I finally got a record deal, and she said, 'It's about damn time!'"
Hear for Yourself: Feisty new single "Someone to Take Your Place," with the killer line "I'll have two Coronas/one for me/one for the hot girl I just turned in to." J.R.
To older country fans, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are the ultimate examples of superstars who stayed true to their humble roots. Tara Thompson, 28, happens to come from Parton's mountains and Lynn's bloodline. The younger singer, typical of her oversharing generation, translates their down-home pride into tell-all songs.
When most people hear the name "Loretta Lynn," they picture a country-music icon whose life inspired a Hollywood movie. When she was a kid, Thompson had no clue Lynn was a country superstar.
"My grandma and her are first cousins, so they grew up together," Thompson says. "I never really knew she was that big of a deal, I don't think, until middle school, whenever I started realizing I can get extra credit with Loretta Lynn autographs. And I'm like, 'Wow, she really is a big deal.'"
You'd think Thompson would've thrown her cousin's name around when she came to Nashville chasing her singing dreams after high school. Instead, she spent long nights covering classic country tunes in a downtown honky-tonk that drew a mostly tourist crowd. Thompson was so convinced that her big break could walk through the door at any moment, she even sang on Christmas Day.
"You'd think being related to the queen of country music, I would know just a little bit more," Thompson says. "But I didn't wanna use her and I didn't want to go through her and use all her connections. I wanted to do it myself."
It wasn't until Thompson got into songwriting that a record label took interest in signing her. Her personality came through in dishy storytelling. When her sister got engaged out of the blue, Thompson turned it into "Vows," a song about an ill-fated shotgun wedding.
"I think she got scared of the song, and they went to the courthouse instead and saved money. That being said, my brother did get married in a storage unit. That's probably another song I have to write," she says, laughing.
Thompson has come up with a lot of fun writing ideas with her producer, Alex Kline. Sitting in her tidy West Nashville bungalow, Kline says she's never worked with an artist less interested in love songs.
"I literally have a little space on my phone, you know, the modern-day notebook, where I just write down all of the ideas that I'm saving for Tara, because I'm like, 'No one else will write this,'" Kline says.
Like one of their new songs, which sounds like texting shorthand for an explicit phrase. Thompson points out it's not.
"White. Trash. Female," she says. "WTF."
A lot of Thompson's songs are cheeky celebrations of attitudes that highbrow types might view as low-class. Her mom, Allison Taffer, says her daughter has a lot in common with cousin Loretta.
"Loretta's never — I don't even know if she knows the word snobby," Taffer says. "And Tara's definitely, definitely like that."
"What you see is what you get," Thompson adds. "This one over here, I'll tell you a funny story. Hope you don't get mad."
She launches into a long story about a catfight at a cheerleading convention. And, no, her mom doesn't get mad. Thompson comes from a long line of women who find humor in life's messier situations. Her grandmother, Diana Webb, gets a kick out of hearing her granddaughter sing about a one-night stand that took place atop a kitchen appliance.
"Every time I play it for somebody, I go, 'Be quiet. You've gotta hear this part. You've gotta hear this part,'" Webb says.
"Well, see, I told you," Thompson says. "You think I'm unfiltered, look at them."
Now that Tara Thompson has put herself and her songs out there, she's got family members lining up to supply her with material.
CMT Next Women of Country member Tara Thompson is a sucker for classic country music.
Growing up listening to artists such as Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker and Merle Haggard, Thompson has an A-list roster of country music influences.
But her very favorite is Willie Nelson.
“I’m like a 90-year-old woman trapped in a 28-year-old body,” the singer-songwriter said during a taping for CMT Next Women of Country Live. “I like old school.”
Country isn’t the only thing Thompson likes to keep classic. She a sucker for classic rock, too.
“I like some Def Leppard and Aerosmith,” she said.
But Thompson is country through and through.
And she’s got some fine roots, too, hailing from Dolly Parton’s hometown in East Tennessee. She moved to Nashville at age 18 and headed straight to the honky-tonks to perform, working double shifts and even triples on the weekends.
For years, she worked hard, waiting on that record deal to come her way. When she started songwriting and putting her story together, things started coming together, and now the rest is becoming history, including a recording contract with the Valory Music Co.
Earlier this year, she was featured on the inaugural CMT Next Women of Country Tour with headliner Jennifer Nettles. That was Thompson’s very first tour, but one thing’s certain: It won’t be her last.
Enjoy Tara Thompson’s performance of “Jail” from CMT Next Women of Country Live.