Still flummoxed, this is business as usual for the veteran Grammy debutante.
Ninian Dunnett 2010
After 40 years and two nominations, Loudon Wainwright III finally got his Grammy in 2010 with High, Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. And if this opportunistic follow-up doesn’t match the breadth and depth of that whole-hearted tribute to one of country’s forgotten pioneers, it has its own bumptious charms.
Whatever interpretive strides Wainwright may have taken (2008’s Recovery even found him rejigging his own older stuff), 10 Songs for the New Depression is back to business as usual. This is Loudon Wainwright the rueful vaudevillian, his narrative voice familiar from decades of satirical whimsies and wry confessions.
The ostensible theme is 21st century recession, equated to the 1930s by some cute cover art and two songs from the earlier period. The American has never been a populist, though (his one real hit, 1972’s Dead Skunk, became a career embarrassment that maybe only the late-arriving Grammy has dispelled), and there’s no parallel here to Woody Guthrie’s empathetic tramp through the Dust Bowl.
Far from it. “Consider yourselves strung along,” Wainwright tells his listeners in Times Is Hard; “All I can do is play this song.” The songwriter’s satirical inclinations have always played second fiddle to his introspection, and whether he’s identifying with a newspaper columnist’s angst (The Krugman Blues) or updating On to Victory, Mr Roosevelt with cynical irony, the economy’s got him flummoxed.
Not that this isn’t appealing. Partly it’s the attack and colour Wainwright wrings from his acoustic guitar, drawing with imagination on a folksy musical palette every bit as old as himself. Partly it’s the fables and punch lines he whittles out of his down-your-street observations.
But most of all it’s the fact that a rankled Loudon Wainwright generates more energy than a small wind farm, and a good deal more humour.
“You know that job I always said that I hated?
Well yesterday they gave me the sack.
Loving your work is so damn overrated –
I sure wish to God I had that job back!”