Poundcake Is Good For You
No, it’s not an April Fools joke. Poundcake is really quite good for you. The New York-based trio of Teddy Thompson, Jeff Hill, and Ethan Eubanks play the songs you can’t remember far back enough to recall not knowing, and they neither corrupt the songs, nor make you fat.
The band launched their latest cd, Poundcake Greatest Hits Vol. 2, recorded live last year, on April 1 at an exuberant, silly, reflective, witty, and also professional show at City Winery. I first heard Poundcake back in 2013, at the same venue, and admit I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of a cover band – even one playing the songs of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, George Jones, and Hank Williams, and fronted by Thompson.
Teddy is, as anyone writing about him must state for the record, the only son of Richard and Linda Thompson. The Poundcake website informs one that he “doesn’t need to be reminded of that anymore.” Yet given Teddy’s recent roping together of mum, dad, sister Kami, brother-in-law James Walbourne, brother Jack (son of Richard and wife Nancy Covey), and nephew Zak Hobbs for an album, Family, and a tour, minus Linda, he’s let himself in for it – even when playing with another band. Family come up regularly in Poundcake’s between-songs repartee, and Teddy takes some ribbing about his celebrated heritage – in the band’s intro, say, to George Jones’s “Poor Little Rich Boy,” which is “dedicated to Teddy.” This heritage could have made a less talented and less determined kid turn to anything other than music as a career. Not Teddy. He told the New York Times last year that he headed from London – where he grew up with his mother and two sisters – to his father’s house in California at 18 with his guitar, to get to know his father with music as a bridge. “When your dad has left you, and you want to be closer to him, and that’s what he does, of course you’re going to want to do that. It’s not rocket science.”
Teddy might have inherited, but has honed on his own, considerable skills as a guitarist and singer. With Poundcake, Thompson and his bandmates – Hill on stand-up bass, and Eubanks on drums – play music unburdened with personal connection beyond affection. They do the songs they grew up with, by the greats: “Wake Up, Little Susie” and “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Daddy Sang Bass.” Thompson somehow shifts his light, London-accented speaking voice into a rich Johnny-Cash roll for “Hey Porter,” and a Shenandoah-Valley high tenor for “Why Can’t He Be You?” Thompson sings in a variety of American accents. (This shouldn’t be surprising; I don’t know why we keep expecting singers to talk like they sing. Everyone has a performing voice. Renée Fleming and Bob Dylan don’t talk like they sing.)
Thompson is intense when he sings: his eyes tighten in a frown, his voice emerges from a near-closed mouth – at times he seems to be clenching his teeth as he sings. How he makes his voice so strong and resonant thereby is a mystery, but it works – Teddy’s voice is as rich as, well, as his mother’s. And his guitar playing, chiefly on a pale Fender but sometimes on a lovely Lowden, is increasingly fine.
At the Winery, Poundcake welcomed Roy Williams as their opening act. I’d never heard of Williams before, to my immediate shame: he’s a gorgeous acoustic guitar player, with a fretting hand whose fingers fly like wings. Accompanied by bassist Dave Speranza, Williams played his own instrumentals that sounded, alternately, like Rudy Vallee should be playing them while Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby danced, and like Ennio Morricone classics. After his set, I went straight to the merch table for Throwing Punches (February 2015).
Poundcake performed, more or less in order, the songs on their new cd. First up was the Mort Shulman/Doc Pomus family ballad “Little Sister,” a smash for Elvis Presley in 1961. At the end, Thompson leaned to the mike with a shy, sly smile and asked us, “Have you ever dated sisters? I have. It’s just as creepy as the song suggests.” Thompson’s onstage conversation, most often with the genially ribald Eubanks, is funny, self-deprecating, and putatively confessional: an almost vaudevillian performance of verbal jabs and double (sometimes blatantly single) entendres. After his elegant, keening “Why Can’t He Be You,” an audience member called out, “beautiful.” Teddy shook his head. “There’s too much femininity in my childhood – always ‘beautiful.’” He averred a preference for the “masculine – ‘good job.’” Eubanks didn’t miss a beat. “We’re gonna make you man up, Teddy.” Thompson shook his head again. “I’ll stick with the kinda in-between woe-man I am,” he grinned.
Williams joined Poundcake for a few songs near the end of the set, adding some lovely keyboards to George Jones covers. The patter was as constant as the music. Poundcake were thirsty, and drink was called for. “Who’s bringing the shots?” “Amanda.” “No, it’s Sarah.” “She’s not coming now. I know from experience that when you scream the wrong woman’s name, she won’t.” They false-started the wrong song. “Oh shit,” said Thompson. Eubanks brought out a birthday cake to their friend Fran, in the audience, and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. “Don’t eat the cake, it’s not real.” “Yes, it’s real, it’s store-bought.” “Is it poundcake?” “No. Oh fucking hell, it IS. It IS poundcake.” “Another cake-related accident. I can’t tell you how often this happens.”
Thompson eagerly slipped his Fender off his shoulder to hand it to Scott Metzger for Waylon Jennings’ – rather, Jim Alley’s – “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” “It’s like me, it’s really white,” he said of the guitar. “The New York Times called me that.” (Susan Dominus, in the NYT Magazine, called Teddy “tall, fair, lean, and British.”). For the first time all night, Thompson beamed throughout the song, smiling at Metzger and his playing. That’s a mark of a fine and confident musician, to me: relishing what someone else is doing on your stage. Levon Helm always grinned delightedly at a bandmate or guest musician playing or singing well in his home in Woodstock; David Bromberg likewise shares his pleasure in someone’s good riffs and strolls.
I love hearing new songs by musicians, but there’s a very high comfort level, on a chilly spring night when the savage winter is finally gone and it’s April, in singing along with three guys clearly happy to be doing the ones you all know by heart.
still of Poundcake via indiegogo
portrait of Teddy Thompson © Beth Herzhaft via www.herzco.com