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Loudon Wainwright III: Lifetime Achievement
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/24/2022)
The 1960s folk music scene brought forth a whole generation of what have become durable singer-songwriters from Bob Dylan to Paul Simon to Joni Mitchell to Arlo Guthrie. Each brought their own approach in musical and lyrical style. Another of the singer-songwriters to emerge from that scene, also with a lengthy and prolific career, and with a one-of-a-kind musical personality is Loudon Wainwright III, who has just released a new album called Lifetime Achievement, the title of which turns out to be quite relevant in Wainwright’s often wry way.
Emerging with a debut album released in 1970, Wainwright then at age 21, soon established his milieu with a combination of often astute observations with quirky humor as illustrated by his early and perhaps biggest hit beyond the folk world, Dead Skunk. He is one of those songwriters whose own circumstance and family life form the grist for quite a few of his songs over the years. He has also appeared in several films and TV shows incl--uding The 40-Year Old Virgin, Parks and Recreation and M*A*S*H.
Wainwright’s last album was a departure, I’d Rather Lead a Band was a collection of songs from the 1920 and 30s accompanied by the brilliant Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. But now, Wainwright is back at his unique songwriting craft, and like much of his work, the new album contains quite a few song directly inspired by his life. The occasion was his 75th birthday, and Wainwright looks back in his witty but often poignant way, and in process shows his is still in top form, both vocally and in his clever lyric writing.
The album is largely solo, and scales back to an a couple of cappella tracks, but also features a big production number with a retro Nashville-style arrangement with a string section, background singers and the requisite steel guitar. In each case, they get the lyrical point through effectively on this generous fifteen song album, with nothing that I would consider filler material.
Opening is a typically clever Wainwright song, I Been a kind of amusing pastiche of life’s experiences. <<>>
It Takes 2 is a kind of backhanded love song with a little concertina accompaniment. It also comments on the state of the world. <<>>
Another great tune that is a kind of epitome of a Loudon Wainwright song is Fam Vac short for “family vacation,” with a desire to take a vacation away from the family. <<>>
Further reflecting on life in one way or another is Little Peace of Me done in a kind of old-timey folk accompaniment. <<>>
The song No Man’s Land is written from the viewpoint of a dog in shared custody after the divorce of its owners, and in the process considers the separation in context beyond that of the exes. <<>>
Further considering the aftermath of a divorce is Back in Your Town in which the protagonist finds himself, perhaps intentionally or perhaps by circumstance, near the residence of the former spouse with her new husband. <<>>
Town and Country is also in the classic Wainwright style, considering being in the city versus living in the country. A full band with horns makes an appearance. <<>>
Perhaps the most poignant song on the album is How Old is 75 done with a folk-style banjo, which reflects on his stage in life and one’s inevitable morality. <<>>
In the course of Loudon Wainwright III’s fifty-two year recording career, we have learned a lot about his life circumstances and even his family through his personal, but witty and frequently self-effacing songs. Now that he has reached a further milestone, at age 75, and as he comments in his songs, outliving both his parents, it provided another opportunity for Wainwright to reflect and be witty at the same time. Age has in no way diminished his music, in terms of both writing and performing. Wainwright sounds just like he did 40 years ago, but with perhaps with the added wisdom and sense of perspective that age brings.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The recording is clean and authentic in both the solo performances and the more produced tracks, and is unfettered by studio effects.
At an age when many performers have stepped away from the microphone or just sing their old songs, Loudon Wainwright III has made one of the best, and I think, most lyrically creative albums of his lengthy career.
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