LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III-HAVEN’T GOT THE BLUES (YET).

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III-HAVEN’T GOT THE BLUES (YET).

Did you ever hear the story about the singer songwriter you sold his guitar to pay for yoga lessons, but still won a Grammy Award? That’s what Loudon Wainwright III did when was growing up.

Loudon was born on September 5th 1946, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His father Loudon Wainwright, Jr, was a columnist for Life magazine and occasional songwriter and his mother was Martha Taylor a yoga teacher. They introduced their family to music. So, it’s no surprise that Loudon would learn to play guitar. That was until he decided he wanted to learn yoga. 

There was a problem. Loudon, now living in San Francisco, didn’t have any money. So he decided to sell his beloved guitar. Back then, Loudon didn’t seem to have any intention of making a career out of music. That was until he was working in a boatyard in Rhode Island.

Loudon’s grandmother got Loudon the job working in the boatyard. He was working beside an old lobsterman, Edgar. Working alongside Edgar and hearing his stories inspired Loudon to write his first song. This presented a problem. He’d sold his guitar. So, he borrowed a guitar and penned his first song Edgar. After this the floodgates opened.

Within a year, Loudon had written nearly twenty songs. Loudon gave up his job in the boatyard. Packing his bags, he headed to Boston and then New York, where he played in folk clubs. Eventually, Loudon was discovered by Milton Kramer, who became his manager. Before long, Loudon signed to Atlantic Records.

Loudon Wainwright III.

Now signed to Atlantic Records, Loudon began working on his debut album. He released his eponymous debut album in 1970 to critical acclaim. Loudon Wainwright III was an acoustic album showcases Loudon’s caustic humour. Despite failing to chart, it was a tantalising taste of what would follow. Forty-four years later, and Loudon Wainwright III has just released his twenty-second album Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet), which was by Proper Records. 

Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet) marks a departure in style from one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of his generation. It sees Loudon Wainwright III belatedly, finding the blues. It’s a welcome change of style from Loudon Wainwright III who in the early seventies, was hailed as the new Dylan.

Album II.

From his eponymous debut album, it was apparent that Loudon Wainwright III had a big future ahead of him. He released his sophomore album Album II in 1971. Just like his debut, it was released to widespread critical acclaim, but failed to chart. Album II was co-produced by Loudon and his manager Milt Kramer, and has a darker worldview. It also features  a mixture of Loudon’s legendary caustic lyrics and trademark humour. It was Loudon’s unique brand of humour that gave Loudon the biggest hit single of his career.

Album III.

Loudon’s first two album were acoustic albums. Not his third album. Album III was released on Columbia and saw Loudon backed by a full backing band. There was a change of producer. This time, Thomas Jefferson Kaye produced Album III. For Loudon, this worked. Not only was Album III hailed the finest album of Loudon’s career, but it was his most successful. Album III reached number 108 in the US Billboard 200, while the single Dead Skunk reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 100. For Loudon, this was the commercial breakthrough he’d been looking for.

Attempted Mustache.

For the followup Attempted Mustache, Loudon headed to Nashville. Bob Johnson produced Attempted Mustache. Although Attempted Mustache was released to commercial success in 1973, it failed to chart. Surely, this was just a blip? 

Unrequited.

Unrequited was the final album Loudon released on Columbia. It was a mixture of new and live tracks. All the new tracks were penned by Loudon. Critics and music lovers appreciated Unrequited. On its release in 1975, it was well received by critics and reached number 156 in the US Billboard 200. Loudon’s luck it seemed, was changing.

T-Shirt.

This continued with his 1976 album T-Shirt. It was one of Loudon’s most eclectic album. There were acoustic tracks, a blues and then on Slowtrain, Loudon and his band kick loose. T-Shirt should’ve fared better than 188 in the US Billboard 200. Sadly, punk rock arrived. Critics turned on artists like Loudon. The reviews of T-Shirt were scathing. Rolling Stone did a hatchet job on T-Shirt. From hailing Loudon as the new Dylan, he and his peers were suddenly dinosaurs. However, Loudon’s music has outlived punk.

Final Exam.

Following the disappointment surrounding T-Shirt, Loudon returned in 1978 with Final Exam. Stylistically, it was a much more rocky album. Loudon plugged in on Final Exam. On its release, reviews were mixed and it failed to chart. However, reviews back then weren’t necessary fair. A new breed of critics were slating everything that was pre-punk. Artists like Loudon didn’t stand a chance. So, it’s no surprise that Loudon didn’t release another album until 1983. 

Fame and Wealth.

During the five years between Final Exam and 1983s Fame and Wealth, Loudon spent a lot of time in Britain. He established a large and loyal fan-base. It’s thought he became more popular in Britain than America. Britain seemed to get Loudon, who was in the process of reinventing himself.

Fame and Wealth was the first album to showcase Loudon’s new sound. It was a much more pared back, folk sound. Gone was the rockier sound of Final Exam. Aided and abetted by musicians of the calibre of Richard Thompson a new Loudon Wainwright III emerged.

Critics didn’t like Fame and Wealth. It was released to mixed reviews. Loudon’s fans had mixed feelings about Fame and Wealth. On its release, Fame and Wealth failed to chart. For Loudon this was a blow. He wasn’t going to give-up though.

I’m Alright.

Two years passed before Loudon returned with I’m Alright in 1985. It was produced by Richard Thompson, and featured Danny Thompson and Paul Brady. Loudon who usually wrote all his own songs, even collaborated on Screaming Issue. He penned the track about his teenage daughter Martha, with Terre Roche. The result was an album that was well received by critics. Sadly, although I’m Alright fared well in Britain, the album failed to chart in America. This would become a pattern and Britain adopted Loudon as one of their own.

More Love Songs.

Just like I’m Alright, Loudon recorded More Love Songs in Britain. It was produced by Richard Thompson, and featured Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy. A total of thirteen tracks were recorded. The acoustic style continued. There were also a number of piano driven ballads on More Love Songs, which included some of the best music Loudon released during the eighties. Sadly, quality didn’t equate to commercial success. On More Love Songs’ release, it failed to chart. So, Loudon took a break from recording for three years.

Therapy.

By 1989, when Loudon released Therapy, much had changed in his life. During his three years away from the recording studio, he’d moved back home to America. So, Richard Thompson was replaced as producer by Chaim Tannenbaum. Along with a talented band folk, country and Americana collided. The result was a well received, but underrated album. Therapy, which, failed to chart, remains one of the hidden gems in Loudon Wainwright III’s back-catalogue. It would be Loudon’s only album until 1992s History.

History.

When Loudon released History in 1992, the three previous years had been turbulent. Loudon’s father had died and he was having problems with his own son Rufus. The death of his father provoked a myriad of emotions within Loudon. It also inspired many of the songs on History. As a result, the music on History is personal, maybe even therapeutic. Just like T-Shirt, History was an eclectic album. There was everything from folk, blues and country rock on History, which was released in 1992.

History was Loudon’s first album of the new decade. He must have been hoping for an upturn in his fortunes. After all, it had been a long time since one of his albums charted. On History’s release, critics welcome the eclectic nature of the album. Whether he was delivering a reflective ballad or rocking out, Loudon, critics said was on fine form. Sadly, this didn’t translate into sales. Again, chart success eluded him. So, Loudon took another break from the recording studio.

Grown Man.

Between 1992 and 1995, Loudon had been busy helping bring up his family. In 1993, he release his second live album Career Moves. Ironically, Career Moves, which  was made-up of material from the eighties, was hailed one of Loudon’s best album. After that, Loudon continued to tour and then in 1995 with Grown Man.

Grown Man featured a different side of Loudon. It wasn’t as bleak an album. Instead, Loudon’s humour shawn through. Reviews were mixed and Grown Man wasn’t a commercial success. Long gone was chart success and hit singles. 

Little Ship.

After a gap of two years, Loudon returned in October 1995, with Little Ship. Despite the title, Little Ships was a group of songs that focused on relationships. Not for the first time, did a Loudon Wainwright III album divided opinion amongst critics and music lovers. That was the case with Little Ship. Some people loved and “got” Little Ship. Other, well it sailed past them. So, it’s no surprise that Little Ship sunk without trace.

Social Studies.

Loudon had never been a singer to write inane songs. His songs were cerebral, full of social comment and caustic wit. That was the case with 1999s Social Studies. Many of the songs had been written for National Public Radio and looked at the Tonya Harding scandal, the O.J. Simpson trial and the advent of the millennium. These tracks allowed Loudon to combine social comment and humour. 

Essentially, Loudon was following in his father’s footsteps. While his father wrote for Time magazine, Loudon’s “columns” were put to music. Fifteen of these columns featured on Social Studies, which was released in 1999.

On its release in 1999, reviews of Social Studies ranged from good to outstanding. Loudon seemed to have caught the critics imagination. Sadly, Social Studies didn’t come close to troubling the charts. Yet again, another of Loudon’s albums failed to find the audience it deserved. Despite that, he was still a hugely popular artist live. Especially in his second home Britain, where his albums found an appreciative audience. That was the case with his next album Last Man on Earth.

Last Man on Earth.

When Loudon released Last Man on Earth in September 2001, he’d been through another traumatic time. His mother had died and a relationship had ended. Music was Loudon’s way of expressing his feelings and grieving. 

Last Man on Earth found Loudon lonely and grieving. He’d laid bare his soul. On other tracks, Loudon continued to examine his troubled relationship with late father. All this made Last Man on Earth one of the most personal and introspective albums Loudon had released. It was akin to a snapshot into his weary, troubled soul. How would critics and music lovers react to Last Man on Earth?

On the release of Last Man on Earth, it didn’t chart in the US Billboard 200. It did reach number forty-four in the US Top Independent chart. Belatedly, Loudon’s music was receiving the recognition it deserved. Would this continue? 

Here Come The Choppers.

Four years passed before Loudon released his next studio album, Here Come The Choppers. Since Last Man On Earth’s release, the world was a very different place. The world was at war. Ironically, this gave Loudon inspiration. 

Loudon wrote an album based upon the Iraq war. Instead of Iraq, the war was taking place in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles. Here Come The Choppers saw Loudon unleash his acerbic wit and dark humour. 

Released in 2005, Here Come The Choppers received mixed reviews and failed to chart. The commercial success Loudon had enjoyed proved fleeting.

Strange Weirdos.

Loudon released his first soundtrack album in 2007. This was Strange Weirdos, the soundtrack to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. It was co-produced by Joe Henry and Loudon. Guest artists included Van Dyke Parks, Richard Thompson and Greg Leisz. They played their part in what was one of Loudon’s most successful albums.

On the release of Strange Weirdos in 2007, it peaked at number thirty-two in the Billboard Heatseekers and number 22 on the Top Soundtracks chart. For Loudon, this was a welcome change in his fortunes. 

Recovery.

Recovery saw  Loudon return to his first four albums for inspirations. Having chosen thirteen tracks, Loudon reinvented them. Accompanying him, was a tight and talented band. 

They help Loudon to breath new life and meaning into what’s without doubt, classic Loudon Wainwright III. After all, Loudon’s first four albums feature some of the best music of his forty-four year recording career. Despite being crammed full of classic tracks, reviews were mixed and the album failed to chart. Maybe what was the one of the most ambitious albums of Loudon’s career would mark a change in his fortunes?

High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project.

That was High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. This was the twentieth album of Loudon’s career. It sees him pay homage to country musicians and banjo player, Charlie Poole. His music may not have been familiar to many people. Loudon was determined to rectify this. While this is admirable, it wasn’t exactly the most commercial project. That’s until he brought onboard a few friends.

This includes Loudon’s daughter Martha, son Rufus and sister Sloan Wainwright. The Roche sisters, Maggie, Suzzy and Terre added backing vocals and Geoff Muldaur, a former member of Paul Butterfield Blues’ Band played banjo. They’re just a few of the many musicians who played their part in High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project sound and success.

At last, Loudon Wainwright III was on the verge of receiving the recognition his music deserved. On the release of High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project in 2009, it was released to critical acclaim and reached number two in the Bluegrass’ charts. Then to top it all, High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project won a Grammy Award for best folk album. After thirty-nine years and twenty albums, Loudon Wainwright III was receiving the commercial success and critical acclaim his music deserved. However, Loudon wasn’t one for resting on his laurels. 

10 Songs for the New Depression.

Straight away, Loudon began penning 10 Songs for the New Depression. The songs were inspired by the global financial crisis and the recession. Loudon went back to basics, accompanying himself on banjo, guitar and ukelele. 

On the release of 10 Songs for the New Depression, it received mostly, positive reviews. Especially in Britain, where critics lauded Loudon’s analysis of the situation. He combine analysis with wit and wisdom. The result was a fitting followup to High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. Especially when 10 Songs for the New Depression reached number number thirty-eight in the Top 40 Independent Albums charts. Loudon’s career, it seemed was enjoying an Indian Summer. 

Older Than My Old Man Now.

April 17th 2012 was when Loudon released his previous album, Older Than My Old Man Now. It found Loudon in a reflective mood. He was posing questions about the big subjects in life. This included growing old and dying. Loudon was also thinking about childhood, family and family history. It seemed Loudon was at the stage in his life when he realised that, none of us are invincible. Partly, this was down to Loudon having outlived his father, who died aged just sixty-three. So, it’s no wonder Loudon was in a reflective mood. Ironically, when Loudon’s in a reflective mood, he’s at his best.

Especially when accompanied by Martha and Rufus Wainright and Suzzy Roche. Produced by Dick Connette Older Than My Old Man Now was released to widespread critical acclaim. Many of the critics had been around since Loudon released his 1970 eponymous debut. For them, Older Than My Old Man Now was a sobering album. They realised that they too were no longer invincible. That made Older Than My Old Man Now all the more personal and pertinent. It seemed that Older Than My Old Man Now struck a note with many people and it reached number seven in the US Top Heatseekers charts. For Loudon, this was proof that he was at his best when he was in a reflective mood, giving something of himself. However, on his twenty-third album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), Loudon changes tack.

Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet).

For Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), Loudon penned fourteen tracks. He was then joined by a tight, talented band. Their lineup changes throughout Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). However, there are some musicians who play an important role. 

Especially drummer David Mansfield. He’s like a one man band, playing guitars, mandolin, Roksichord, mandodello, percussion, ukelele, fiddle, drums, spoon, viola, violins, tin whistle, pedal steel and electric sitar. He also takes care of programming the upright bass, drums and horn section. 

Other musicians who play a starring role are Martha Wainwright, Tim Luntzel on upright bass, organist Glen Patscha and pianist Andy Burton. So good are the horn section, it would be unfair to single anyone out. They’re at the heart of sound and success of tracks like Brand New Dance, Spaced and Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). This trio of tracks are just a taste of what’s one of Loudon Wainwright III’s best albums in a a long time, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet).

Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) literally bursts into life with Brand New Dance. It sounds like a blistering homage to early Elvis. Especially with blazing horns, Jerry Lee Lewis like piano and a driving rhythm rhythm section for company, Loudon vamps his way through the lyrics. They’re a mixture of social comment and Loudon’s caustic wit. Later, add in scorching guitar solo and what a storming way to open Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), which is a musical roller coaster.

Very different is Spaced, which has a tango sound. The tempo drops and a much more understated and moody arrangement unfolds. This comes courtesy of wistful violins, a clarinet, bursts of tuba and an accordion. They provide the backdrop for Loudon’s melodramatic vocal.

In A Hurry sees Loudon return to the acoustic sound of his early career. His vocal is full of emotion, concern and sadness, as he sings about someone he sees in the station each day. He doesn’t know them, but can see they’re tired and stressed. Loudon paints pictures. So much, that you can see the scenes unfolding before your eyes during this beautiful ballad.

From ballads, Loudon turns his attention to the blues on Depression Blues. This isn’t a first. Over the years, Loudon’s included a blues song on a number of songs. Depression Blues is one of Loudon’s best. Especially, with the slide guitar accompany Loudon’s melancholy vocal. He sings about suffering from depression and struggling to find a cure. They’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to work. That’s why there’s a sense of despair in Loudon’s vocal.

Morgue is another track that revisits America’s rich musical past. It draws inspiration to the early days of country music. With an authentic country backdrop, of fiddles, banjo, accordion and washtub, Loudon sings about having to identify the woman who broke his heart. The payoff is truly caustic as he sings: “you sure got your comeuppance for your crimes, a guilty conscience and a frozen broken heart.” 

Harmless is another track with a country influence. Loudon accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and fiddle, sings about how he’s harmless. He’d never kill an insect, he’s thrifty and “there’s never no trouble from me.” As he sings this, there’s a sense of sadness in his voice. Especially when he sings” “there’s one or two lads who I could call my chums.” As he sings this, Loudon paints a picture of a life never lived and finally, the character in the song has realised this. Especially when he sings: “nobody would notice if I wasn’t there, if I didn’t come home for me tea.” A truly poignant and beautiful track.

The next few tracks continue the country sound. Man and Dog is typical Loudon Wainwright III. There’s a nod to Neil Young and C.S.N.Y, as the track unfolds. Soon, Loudon combines social comment and humour. However, try as he may Loudon can’t quite make Man and Dog work. It’s a disappointing track. Things improve slightly on Harlan County, as a despairing Loudon sings: “I can’t get a drink in Harlan County.” Later, swirling fiddles drive the arrangement to a crescendo.

I Knew Your Mother is a laid-back,country-tinged track. There’s a brief nod to Neil Young’s Harvest, as the song unfolds. Pedal steel and clarinet play leading roles as the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Loudon delivers some of his finest lyrics, via a vocal that’s wistful and melancholy.

Rocky describes Looking at the Calendar. It’s totally different from the previous tracks. You hope Loudon and his band kick loose. They come close on this country rock track, but never quite do. Regardless of this, Loudon and his band are at their best.

Only Loudon could use the words killing and Christmas in a song title. That’s the case on I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas, where Loudon turns his sights on the pro gun lobby. He does this against a subtle, old fashioned, jazz-tinged backdrop. 

God and Nature sees Loudon combine elements of blues, country and folk. He’s accompanied by an understated backdrop. This allows his vocal to take centre-stage. When, it drops out, his band enjoy their moment in the sun, combining blues and country, on this poignant and powerful ballad.

Loudon protest too much I think. That’s apparent on Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It’s a gloriously bluesy track. It’s driven along by the bass. That’s until growling, rasping horns enter. They’re the perfect foil to Loudon’s weary vocal as he claims I “Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet).” Not much.

The melancholy Last Day of the Year closes Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It’s akin to a lament to the days that have passed. Just accordion, banjo, mandolin, harmonium and harmonies accompany Loudon on this wistful lament.

Despite having released twenty-two studio albums, Loudon Wainwright III is still one of music’s best kept secrets. In a career lasting forty-four years, commercial success has eluded Loudon. No wonder, on several occasions Loudon has taken a break from recording albums. He’s always comeback for more. 

There’s a reason for that. He’s a prolific songwriter with plenty to say about the world. On his twenty-two studio albums, Loudon has combined social comment and his caustic humour. Yet it took twenty albums before Loudon Wainwright III received the commercial success and critical acclaim his music deserved. That came when he released

High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. This resulted in a hit album and a Grammy Award. Belatedly, Loudon music was rubbing shoulders with the greats. It marked the start of an Indian Summer for Loudon.

Since then, Loudon has continued to release quality music. The latest instalment in a run of critically acclaimed albums is Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It sees Loudon pay homage to America’s rich musical past. Americana, blues, country, folk and rock can be heard on the fourteen tracks on Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). Mostly, it’s an album full of quality music. The only disappointment is Man and Dog, which doesn’t come up to the standard of the rest of Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). Mind you, Loudon set the bar high on Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet).

Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) is, without doubt, one of the finest albums Loudon Wainwright III has released in a long time. Loudon Wainwright III’s Indian Summer continues with Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), which was recently released by Proper Records.

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III-HAVEN’T GOT THE BLUES (YET).

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2 Comments

  1. Michael S ( in Wiltshire)

    good review thank you, very helpful and interesting.
    Must say Man and Dog went down a storm this weekend when Loudon platyed Cambridge folk festival.
    I bought the new album and after reading your review looking forward to playing it even more.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the review.

      Glad Man and Dog went down well at the Cambridge Folk Festival. I’m sure Loudon went down a storm. That has been the case since he first visited these shores. Usually I’m enjoy Loudon’s combination of caustic wit and social comment. However, Man and Dog was the only song that I didn’t enjoy. The rest of Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet) has been on repeat since it dropped through the door.

      Another album I would recommend to you is John Hiatt’s Terms Of My Surrender. I reviewed it recently, and it’s a real return to form from John Hiatt. I’ll soon be reviewing Richard Thompson’s Acoustic Classics, which you might also enjoy.

      Finally, thanks for your comments. Keep on enjoying Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet).

      Regards,
      Derek.

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