fri 01/03/2024

Album: Loudon Wainwright III - Lifetime Achievement | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Loudon Wainwright III - Lifetime Achievement

Album: Loudon Wainwright III - Lifetime Achievement

Give him the cup: Loudon Wainwright marks his 75th year with his 26th studio album

Celebrating, if that is the right word, his 75th year, Loudon Wainwright III offers us his 26th studio album in 52 rollicking years, Lifetime Achievement. Though he does have one Grammy on the shelf, for 2009’s double set, Charlie Pool Project, awards made from polished metals have not littered his life path or career trajectory.

Captivating songs packed with home truths, razor-sharp wit and hilarious asides, however, do litter that career, along with a family crisis or two, and Lifetime Achievement has more than enough to satisfy all long-term fans, as well as drawing in new ones who may have heard more about Loudon Wainwright III (perhaps from his children with Kate McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha) than they have heard him.

Lifetime Achievement is as good a place as any to remedy the absence of Loudon in your life. He’s always got something to say, and sometimes they’re pretty serious things – things to do with love, ageing, connection, loneliness, other people, family, death – but often as not hilarious as much as they are serious, and easy to identify with.

Take, for instance, “Family Vac”, which will speak some plain home truths to many of us during the summer months between school terms, plus I shoes in that famous quote from Tolstoy about unhappy families to boot. “I need a family vacation, I mean a family vacation alone…” he sings, “I’m gonna pack up the car with the bike and the kayak and leave the fucking family at home,” that familiar whoop and yowl launching across the pay-off lines like a semi-domesticated, semi-unwanted family pet.

In his sleevenotes, Loudon writes: “On this record I’m asking and stating some of the same things over and over - ‘How old Is 75?’ and ‘I’m near the end, time’s almost up,’ ‘How much longer can this go on?’ and ‘Was time wasted or was it well spent?’ and ‘Figure out a way to live one more day, keep going until I’m gone’ and ‘It’s one and done, that’s it son’.”

Those are big subjects, and they all spring to life on the strength of all the laconic, knowing lines and phrases Wainwright strings together through these songs, with stark honestly, dark humour, casually spun insight, some self-aggrandising, sometimes real raw sadness, as on the superb “Back in Your Town”, and packed the well-spun, well-worn home truths that come from a full life fully lived, sharpened to a cutting point by his wit.

When he’s not accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, he’s got the likes of guitarist David Mansfield, banjo player Chaim Tannenbaum and bassist Tony Scherr to keep him company, as well as a full brass section and backing singers for the push-and-pull of “Town and Country”. But whether solo or ensemble, his forte, ultimately, is as one of the great storytellers in song, one who can sketch out a fully-rounded character in a verse or less, and whose voice is simply one of those you want to stop to listen to. That’s more than enough for this particular Lifetime Achievement.


Tim Cumming's website

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