Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: 429 Records
Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) is the 26th album for Loudon Wainwright III, and his first since 2012. Along with having a varied topical focus, Wainwright worked with long-time collaborator David Mansfield and the results are, as Wainwright brags, "electric." The sweet-sour sounds of HGTB(Y) vary greatly in tone and attitude. Zoloft-induced lyrics about depression, drinking, dog shit and dodging parking enforcement are conveyed in such a seductive and simple manner that cover-to-cover listening is effortless.
It’s a well-known fact baby boomers are getting older. The first wave is on Medicare, getting Social Security benefits, and such; but this generation was the first to rock and roll. Sure the spirit is willing, but the flesh? Well, that’s another story. Loudon Wainwright III, born in 1946, understands.
One of the underlying themes of the crowdfunded Veronica Mars film is that you can’t change who you are no matter how far away you try to get from your former life. A bit of dour outlook on the world, but I was reminded of it while listening to Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet), the 23rd album from Loudon Wainwright III. Like most folk artists, the temper of the musical times has not affected his work in the slightest over the past 40-plus years since he arrived on the scene.
Twenty-six albums in, Loudon Wainwright's signature is etched even more deeply into the American songsmith grain on Haven't Got the Blues (Yet). Voiced in blues, roots, rock, country, folk, and even swing-jazz, his funny, biting, often tender observations of the four D's -- decay, death, depression, and drinking -- are all present, as are his dog Harry's unwelcome gifts, love in old age, and subjects that, as usual, engage questionable taste. Working once more with producer and longtime musical cohort David Mansfield and a wide array of musicians including horn and wind players, daughter Lucy Wainwright and the ubiquitous Aiofe O'Donovan also appear on backing vocals.
In the song Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) from the album of the same name, renowned singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright sings, “I’m just a leaky super tanker, I’ve got a lot of oil to spill.” It’s a reference to his tears, but in Wainwright’s case, it could also define his preferred method of expression. Even when he first started, the critic’s often-given title of the “New Dylan” was already inaccurate. Wainwright more closely embodied the spirit of a Pete Seeger – humorous, a proverbial heart hanging off the sleeve, and more comfortable with the beauty of everyday, mundane living – than Bob Dylan, a man deep in persona, abstraction, french surrealism, and above all secrecy.
Loudon Wainwright lllHaven’t Got the Blues (Yet)(429)Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars You don’t have to be over 50 to appreciate Loudon Wainwright lll’s recent music, but it helps. Wainwright has, since his 1970 debut, predominantly written about the frustration, foibles, follies and irritations of life, refracted through his often humorous lens. So, as he gets older, that means more songs about ageing and being a senior in a business that doesn’t exactly embrace the AARP crowd.
Loudon Wainwright III's latest album is a long joke, full of wry commentary on weighty topics like mortality and lonesomeness. It opens with the rousing "Brand New Dance," whose curmudgeonly narrator "look[s] into the abyss," and closes with "Last Day of the Year," which starts hopeful, then goes sour. Even straightforward cuts rely on small twists: "I Knew Your Mother" tells the story of an absent lover to the son they had together.
The music of Loudon Wainwright has always tended to straddle the line between humor and pathos. In his best works, he manages to perfectly combine the two to create something compelling, highly personal and yet instantly relatable. 2001’s The Last Man On Earth felt like a raw emotional nerve as Wainwright explored themes of parental loss, loneliness and the general discomfort that comes with the aging process.
The sleeve of Wainwright’s 26th album, and his first since the mortality musings of 2012’s Older Than My Old Man Now, could feasibly be marketed with an “As Not Seen On TV” sticker. Two of the tracks were originally written for the small screen, but ultimately rejected by the very producers who commissioned them. That’s a pity because the backwoods lament Harlan County would have sounded glorious in the Elmore Leonard crime caper Justified, and the dysfunctional-dad narrator of The Morgue is laugh-out-loud funnier than anything on Judd Apatow’s short-lived sitcom Undeclared.
Having contemplated his own mortality and superannuated status on 2012’s guest-filled Older Than My Old Man Now, with heavy dollops of his trademark wit and special knack for pathos, Loudon Wainwright III still seems far away from packing-away his guitar and putting his feet up as he returns with Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet). Turning down the headcount a little whilst fleshing out his studio arrangements, with help from long-time collaborators Chaim Tannebaum and David Mansfield, Loudon muses on modern life through the prism of his satirical eye, his increasingly elder statesman role and his extended family life sagas. The result is an album is that both uplifting and surprisingly thought-provoking in places.
With a catalogue of 20-plus albums and a career that stretches over more than four decades, Loudon Wainwright III has earned the right to take some time off. But he hasn’t yet. His wit is still sharp – though maybe not as piercing as it was in the ‘70s – and his ear for a strong melody still in tune. His latest, Haven’t Got Time for the Blues (Yet), is an ambitious project crossing a multitude of genres over 14 tracks, covering everything from depression and heartbreak (two Wainwright hallmarks) to gun control and living in New York.