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Loudon Wainwright III

by B.A. Nilsson on May 24, 2012


On his 1978 album Final Exam, Loudon Wainwright III exhorted his fans to “Watch me rock, I’m over 30,” an age he’d earlier insisted he’d never reach. 1995’s Grown Man kicks off with the song “Birthday Present” (also in the temporal sense), in which he nervously celebrates 48—and anticipates 50 as “That ripe young age/That halfway point/When life really begins.”

Older Than My Old Man Now finds the singer-songwriter at 65. He’s outlived an ex-wife, seen his son achieve greater career success than he ever enjoyed, and bested his own father’s lifespan by two years. It’s weighing upon him.

However ill-suited Wainwright may have been as husband and father—he and his kids have chronicled it in song—family always has been important. The family is here in force on the new album, with four kids and two of their mothers joining on the opening number, “The Here and the Now,” which otherwise suffers from sounding written for the occasion. After that, the album takes off. The title song begins with a recitation of something Wainwright’s father, a noted writer, wrote about his own father, but the song itself is really more anchor than lament, even though it laments, “But just ‘cause you survive/That don’t mean you feel alive/And your demise will come to pass.”

But just as you fear you’re in for a relentless downer, here comes Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, duetting with Loudon about the wish for a “Double Lifetime,” their guitar work as fascinating a contrast as their vocals. Although “Dateline,” a metaphoric contemplation of time zones, grows a bit didactic, the backing by Will Holshouser on accordion and Steve Elson on saxophones makes it a keeper. Meanwhile, Rob Morsberger’s accordion work underscores a poignant duet with daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche on “All in a Family,” which examines dynamics of love and forgiveness. Most famously fractious of those relationships has been Loudon’s history with Rufus, although they get along well enough to join forces on “The Days That We Die,” acknowledging a stalemate.

It wouldn’t be a Wainwright album without humor, and his hilarious paean to “My Meds” is worthy of Tom Lehrer (who liked the couplet, “When I was a little kid, I never popped no pills/Just a Band-Aid and Mercurochrome could cure most of my ills.”) And Dame Edna Everage, who was romantically linked to Loudon on Ally McBeal, joins him in the wistful “I Remember Sex,” which could become a baby-boomer anthem.

Producer Dick Connette helped guide Wainwright to a Grammy for High Wide and Handsome, and the partnership remains inspired. Let’s hope, Loudon’s fears to the contrary, there are many more.