Date: May 05 2012
Is it really true that every musician has at least one great album waiting to be recorded? As the baby-boom generation moves into old age, its output has been remarkable.
John Prine was 20 years into his career before he produced his masterpiece, The Missing Years. Martin Simpson was 54 when he released his definitive Prodigal Son. Now Loudon Wainwright III, aged 65 and with his solitary hit Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road) now 40 years old, has produced an album of new songs that is not only a distillation of his entire career but, arguably, the greatest and most coherent collection of songs about growing old ever recorded.
Making use of the full range of talents he has spawned and partnered (his son, Rufus; his daughters, Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Lexie Kelly Wainwright; and former partners Suzzy Roche and Ritamarie Kelly); reciting two beautifully crafted reminiscences from his journalist-father, Loudon Wainwright jnr; and even including a photo of his grandson by Martha, Arcangelo Albetta, Wainwright has created an intensely family-oriented album.
The album's genius lies in its diversity, lyrical profundity and humour. It ranges from melancholy ballads (In C, Somebody Else) through Tom Lehrer-style comedy (My Meds) to talking blues (Double Lifetime, which has Wainwright sharing vocals with Ramblin' Jack Elliott) and, most remarkably, a ''back to the 1940s'' country song in the style of the Sons of the Pioneers (Over the Hill), which he sings with family friend Chaim Tannenbaum and Martha, who sounds uncannily like her mother, Kate McGarrigle.
Wainwright's great talent has always lain in his ability to expose his deepest feelings and to write about them with a searing and unrepentant self-knowledge. Thus he can write, as his potency declines: ''I remember sex - that thing we used to do'', which he sings as a duet with the woman's vocals by Dame Edna Everage. And, most impressively, The Days that We Die is a brilliant dissection of father-son relationships that opens with his father's observations about the nature of families, including: ''I doubt that the length of the acquaintance necessarily makes it easier for loved ones to know you better'', and sees Wainwright and son Rufus sharing verses with insights such as: ''Each victory should be good news/But when I have to win, you're the one that I lose.''
The result is a towering achievement that explores the complex essence of getting old. It is hard to imagine any of Wainwright's contemporaries, even if they are brave enough to try, will ever reach the heights, and explore the depths, of this remarkable analysis of family life and ageing.
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
Older than My Old Man Now
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