26 albums into his career Loudon Wainwright continues to demand attention from anyone with an ear for well crafted and well performed songs that draw from the history of recorded American folk music. Primarily known as a comic writer/performer (thanks to that Dead Skunk) and more recently as the progenitor of a small musical dynasty Wainwright has suffered to an extent from this perception despite the fact that at his best he is one of the finest singer/songwriters in the world today. He’s been on a roll since his Charlie Poole project (High Wide and Handsome) won the best traditional folk album Grammy in 2010 and Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet) maintains his recent quality as Wainwright plays some old time folk, some rock’n’roll and even a touch of klezmer. His tragicomic persona is reflected on the album cover which features Weary Willie (Emmet Kelly), a 1930’s Clown, sunk in a bubble bath, forlorn, with his clown outfit strewn around while the back cover is more mischievous with a photo shopped image of Sigmund Freud as Blind Lemon Jefferson ( a reference to Depression Blues on the album).
Wainwright belts out the opener, Brand New Dance, in full band rockabilly style with horn section included as he bemoans the workaday life. It’s skilfully played but there’s a feeling that he could knock out several such songs each day and while a radio friendly rock song might be useful for radio programmers for this reviewer such fodder has always been Wainwright’s weak spot. The clarinet led klezmer style of Spaced is a better fit as Wainwright rails against New York parking rules but again it’s an easy target and the song lacks a sense of passion. Song three, In A Hurry, therefore is a timely reminder of Wainwright’s excellence as he pares back and delivers a tremendous portrait of a panhandler observing the nine to fivers who race past him. Charged with emotion it harks back to the desolation captured on his debut album and is well worth the cost of admission alone. From here on in Wainwright does no wrong as he balances his humour, pathos and wicked observation in a variety of styles. The wit of The Morgue , Man & Dog and I’ll Be Killing You this Christmas is well balanced with the music complementing the lyrics while Harlan County is a bona fide old time country facsimile that laments the lack of premises to buy booze in a dry county.
Another bellwether mark of a Wainwright album is the family confessional song with past offerings at times stark and somewhat unsettling. Here he offers the upbeat and tender I Knew Your Mother (with backup vocals from daughter Martha) on a gingerly deft tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle that points directly to the fruit of their loins. On the other side of the coin Wainwright delivers a dense folk rock song (which recalls Richard Thompson’s work) on Looking At The Calendar where he muses on holidays and the least hurtful time for a couple to separate before plumping for April Fool’s Day (we did mention sardonic earlier on I think).
Overall on a LWIII scale this one rates 8/10. If you like Loudon you’ll love this. If not, then why not?