May 2nd, 2012 By Brian Baker | Music | Posted In: Music Video, New Releases, Reviews

Review: Loudon Wainwright III's 'Older Than My Old Man Now'


Loudon Wainwright III could very easily have slid into the where-are-they-now realm of celebrity obscurity if he had allowed himself to be swallowed up by the one-hit wonderment of “Dead Skunk” in 1972. Although most people at the time only knew him for that ubiquitous single, Wainwright was confident that he had plenty of other weapons in his songwriting arsenal and set about to define the 40-year Folk/Pop career that has brought him certain measures of acclaim, wealth and notoriety as a songwriter, performer, actor and dysfunctional family man, each role woven inextricably into the fabric of the others (remember when he was Captain Spalding, the singing surgeon on M*A*S*H?). Clearly, the two paths that have intersected most often in Wainwright’s life are music and family; his itinerant singer/songwriter’s existence has been both a positive and a negative in his numerous attempts at familial stability and his parents, wives and children have been an endless source of grist for his songwriting mill.

Chief among Wainwright’s influences has been his often larger-than-life father, whose death at 63 left a gaping hole in his 17-year-old son’s life and psyche. A great deal of Wainwright’s unresolved love and anger issues concerning his father have been worked out in his songs over the past few decades, but his latest uniformly excellent album finds him looking back at his long timeline after reaching the milestone birthday of 65, a momentous and bittersweet benchmark that inspired the album’s title; Older Than My Old Man Now.

Like much of his recent work, Wainwright explores the familiar subjects of family, aging, death and lust on Old Man, which he does with typical candor, humor and reflection. Wainwright opens with the jazzy “The Here & the Now,” an annotated but honest account of his 65 years (“I took a wife, we had some kids/I screwed that up and went on the skids”), a history that he continues tracing on the contemplative and mournful “In C.” In the eloquent spoken word intro to the title track, Wainwright calls his father his “principal ghost” and then launches into a Delta-flavored vamp that addresses the psychic conundrum of having more calendars under his belt than his dad (“Sixty four is awful old, you know what can happen next/Hey, I’m older than my old man ever was, and I’m trying to keep it in context”).

Wainwright’s broad range is best typified by the ridiculously funny “I Remember Sex,” a parlor piano duet with Barry Humphries’ female alter ego Dame Edna Everidge, and the sublimely heartbreaking realizations of “The Days That We Die,” where Wainwright expounds, in prose and rhyme, on the reality of getting closer to life’s finish line without having fully reconciled with his children for his real and imagined sins. Listening to Wainwright and son Rufus trade soul-searching verses about life and change and forgiveness will bring a tear to the most cynical eye.

Over the course of the past few albums, Wainwright has honed his songwriting style to a fine point and narrowed his focus to very personal issues which he has translated into impossibly universal songs. Older Than My Old Man Now finds him in peak form in that regard, and reinforces the idea that he’s probably got plenty more to say on every subject as his finite journey heads inexorably toward the infinite horizon.

05.03.2012 at 06:54 Reply

While it's nice to finally see a generally positive review of this great album, Mr. Baker's underwhelming treatment of the songs is ultimately lackluster. 

A few facts: 

a) 5 generations of Wainwrights are represented on this album.  Even grandson Arcangelo has a part on one of the tracks.  The recitations on the title track and "The Days That We Die" were indeed penned by Loudon Wainwright Jr., making them even more poignant.  LWII died in 1988, making his son 40.  Mr. Baker has confused the generations about whom LWIII sings.   

b) the "range" is better represented by "My Meds", a hilarious send up of the cavalcade of drugs with which LWIII has had personal experience.  The remarkable thing about this track is, as evidenced by the acoustic guitar instrumentation in the posted youtube vid, is the rollicking transformation into a parlour classic with only piano accompaniment on the studio version.  Mr. Baker hits the nail on the head mentioning "The Days That We Die", but again, the prose was penned by LWII.  "I Remember Sex", while quaint and smile inducing, for LWIII is just camp.  

c) So many other highlights dot in the rest of the tracks.  "Over The Hill" was the only song co-written with ex-wife Kate McGarrigle and features both pal Chaim Tannebaum’s beautiful voice resurfacing for the first time since "The McGarrigle Hour" and daughter Martha harmonizing.  "10" features ex-wife Suzzy Roche adding beautiful spice and daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche accentuates "All In A Family".   Chris Smither's earthy vocals are strangely overlooked on "Somebody Else" by many reviewers, probably because they think it might be John Prine and just don't know. 

The REAL depth of range is exemplified with the haunting "Interlude", a string instrumental that divides the disc and stirs the soul, a piece unique in the LWIII canon. 

The point is, when realized and experienced, there is so much MORE to this set in every way.   When a reviewer does his/her homework instead of just cranking out another “piece”, a full, fair review gives readers a better sense of what's there.  After all, is that not the reviewer's function?