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.