Loudon Wainwright III Reissues
Critically acclaimed yet criminally underappreciated by American music fans (he’s been better appreciated in Great Britain), singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III has had a 30+ year career making the personal universal with wit, clarity and tunefulness. He’s also an actor (recent film appearances include The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Elizabethtown and The Aviator) and, you may have heard, father of the talented Rufus and Martha.
Son of the Life magazine columnist Loudon Wainwright Jr., LWIII was brought up in Westchester County, New York, and dropped out of college en route to becoming a troubadour. After paying dues in the New York City folk scene, he signed with Atlantic Records, which released these first two efforts in 1970 and 1971. Despite positive reviews and “new Dylan” buzz, the albums did not find their audience, and our hero moved on to Columbia Records, where he would release, for better or for worse, his only charting record, the novelty hit “Dead Skunk.” And the rest is, well, History, a 1992 album by that name, along with a slew of fine recordings from before and after.
But here is where it all began: Loudon Wainwright III and Album II. Both recordings feature Loudon in his element -- accompanied only by his own guitar (with a couple of exceptions on Album II). Loudon Wainwright III demonstrates his flair for poking fun, with targets including the counterculture (“Glad To See You’ve Got Religion”) as well as himself (“School Days”), but also has a more serious side (the character studies “Central Square Song” and “Black Uncle Remus”). Album II focuses on Loudon’s sardonic observational style, from the confessional (“I Know I’m Unhappy”) to relationships (“Cook That Dinner Dora”) to the mundane (“Plane, Too”), with a sweet and straightforward surprise, a cover of the Western trail song “Old Paint” featuring backup vocals by then-wife Kate McGarrigle. (“School Days,” a brightly melodic fan favorite, was later covered on 1998’s The McGarrigle Hour, with lead vocals shifting from the McGarrigle sisters to Rufus to Loudon.)
On careful listen, the “new Dylan” tag proved off the mark. Lines such as “I know that I’m angry/I know I’m afraid/I rarely make love/I mostly get laid” and “There was a bathroom on the plane/Flushing toilet too” are pure Loudon. As Loudon himself once said of what was then considered folk music, “Allan Sherman was more interesting to me in a way than Phil Ochs. It’s just my taste.”