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Folk/Americana - Released December 6, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Within the year to come, Loudon Wainwright III would enjoy his brief moment of fame with the single "Dead Skunk." Reaching the number 16 position on the Billboard chart and appearing on his third album, the musical approach to the tune differed a lot from his first two LP releases. Album 1 and Album 2 didn't feature a band -- they simply presented the artist with his guitar (and occasionally on piano). Thus, compared to his later albums, the songs on Album 2 appear less melodic. Naturally, the listener is directed to what matters most: Wainwright's imaginative and often funny lyrics. Combined with the unique manner in which he delivers them -- part regretful, part nearly hysterical -- his views are essential to his performance. For all it matters, he's not that good a singer, but whenever he tries to reach a higher note, it makes the implications of his songs more tragicomic. Every once in a while he's rediscovered for this specific talent and his fan base expands a little further. From the lyrics on this record, it is clearly noticeable that Wainwright grew up, if only a little. His then-wife, Kate McGarrigle, had given birth to their son Rufus; hence, Wainwright offers an insightful account of fatherhood in "Be Careful There's a Baby in the House" and, in all honesty, gets away with a line like "For the coochie coochie coo is a lot of pooh pooh." Elsewhere, there's "Samson and the Warden," the famous story of the singer ending up in an Oklahoma jail (for smoking pot), pleading hysterically with the merciless warden not to cut off his hair and beard. Also worth mentioning is the trademark Wainwright suicide trilogy, which could be comprehended as a sort of pre-study to 1986's sublime "I'm Alright." For instance, compare the former "When you get the blues and you wanna shoot yourself in the head/It's alright, it's alright/Go ahead" to the latter "So I went to the bathroom, to the medicine chest/There was razor blades and sleeping pills and all the rest/But I was in control baby, I was so relaxed/I found myself my dental floss, my favorite kind: unwaxed!" The undeniable highlight is, of course, "Motel Blues." Covered by the likes of cult band Big Star and Dutch band Daryll-Ann, it's a song about the more depressing aspects of touring. The content of the lyrics will have you crying on the bed, especially at the point where Wainwright tries to convince a girl to spend the night with him in exchange for a song about her on his next LP. Good old Loudon was once threatened with having his genitals removed by a hostile female DJ, while he sang it during a women's liberation program on the radio! All the more reason to get to know the singer or at least this song better. ~ Quint Kik
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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Concord Records, Inc.

Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up suffices as the soundtrack for Judd Apatow's 2007 summer comedy. Unlike so many recordings that are "music from and inspired by the film," this one actually serves as both a soundtrack and as Loudon Wainwright III's new album. Co-produced by Wainwright and Joe Henry, the album boasts an all-star cast that includes bassist David Pilch, Greg Leisz, Van Dyke Parks, Patrick Warren, Richard Thompson, and others. According to Apatow's liner notes, he saw Wainwright perform "Grey in L.A." and asked him to record a version without words. Wainwright, in London at the time, asked if he could use Thompson. Wainwright was also working on his own album with Henry and suggested him as a co-collaborator. The music from the songs on the album other than two songs, "Grey in L.A." and the album's second track, play as the beginning and end credits of the film. The rest of the songs were used with their lyrics stripped out as incidental music. So here are the songs that Wainwright and Henry cut, vocals and all. There are two covers on the set, Peter Blegvad's "Daughter," and Mose Allison's "Feel So Good." Henry contributed a couple of instrumentals in the atmospheric "Ypsilanti," and the gorgeous Parks and band ballad "Naomi." Wainwright also re-cut "Lullaby," a song from a 1973 album. He and Henry co-wrote "You Can't Fail M e Now," and the loose, raggedy blues "So Much to Do." Those are the mechanics. It's a two-for-one deal as a soundtrack and a new Wainwright album. As such, it's his best material in years; in more than a decade, actually. It's focused, adventurous, and alternately lush and to the bone. The band plays like a band, the songs have no extra baggage lyrically or musically, and walks many musical lines without ever crossing over into any one genre for too long. Wainwright's as wry as ever, but without the caustic bitterness that can plague some of his best work. Which is funny here, because it is genuine and reveals more of the artist's aesthetic personality than many of his more recent recordings do. In other words, Wainwright comes across as completely unmasked, and he's having the time of his life. The way these players interact together, even when it is with a string section who are none other than the Section Quartet, feels organic, inseparable from the body of the composition or the grain in the singer's voice. Strange Weirdos may have an outrageous title, but these songs are anything but. Check out the daytime reflections of "Valley Morning," where the protagonist watches, muses and reflects on love as all this goes on. In the song, the protagonist is on the edge, but he doesn't know of what. He's been torn up a bit by life fleeting by as his desperation turns to resignation: "...But life is a movie out here in the valley/What else were we thinking of?" In the wooly B-3 organ drenched gospel of "X or Y" is a sly reflection of childbirth and how acceptance of the gender of a child is all taken care of, so stress is useless, why worry? It's either gonna be a girl or a boy. It's hilarious and wise in its folksy way. Predetermination never sounded so useless or silly. Wainwright and Henry would probably both bristle at the term "poetic," but it's the only way to describe a love song that is as brutally honest and desperate as "You Can't Fail Me Now." With acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano and strings to a slow, shuffling Bellerose beat, Wainwright sings: "I lost the thread among the vines/And hung myself in story lines/That tell the tales I never would allow/God knows the name of every bird/That fills my angry words/But you know all my secret heart avows...We're taught to love, the worst of us/And mercy more than life, but trust me:/Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow/I live for yours/And You can't fail me now/I live for your mercy/And you can't fail me now." It's a prayer to the Beloved and a prayer from the bottom; from the wracked halls of brokenness that can shatter the human heart. To the skittering mandolin and strings, this plea for mercy isn't based on anything but the vulnerability that only intimacy can give us the permission to confess. Strange Weirdos is a small testament to the loopy, lopsided journey of love in life. In Wainwright's world here, love -- flawed, selfish, open, disillusioned, frightened and above all comical, no matter how complex or tragic it is -- is all there is, whether it be familial or romantic, or even ideological, it's what we have in the sum total: either too much, too little, or none at all. We either desire it with the core of our beings, or we wish to be out of it and walk away, or we are so fully in it we glimpse the secrets of the world. And it is so much more than we ever consider it to be because it is everything. Who would have thought that at this stage in his career, Wainwright (with help from a very empathetic co-producer in Henry whose contribution is not to be underestimated) would come up with a recording like this: a treasure chest of truly great songs that communicate so effortlessly. As an album, its seamless, uncluttered, and virtually flawless. ~ Thom Jurek
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Folk/Americana - Released December 6, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

This LP introduces the singer who carries one of the most misspelled names in the songwriting business. Either addressed as Louden Wainwright or Loudon Wainright on concert tickets and file cards in record stores, it would eventually inspire him to come up with a very funny song on the subject: "T.S.M.N.W.A.," on 1993's Career Moves. After getting to know him better through listening to this superb live album, a logical next step would be to turn to his first two albums. At the time he released the first one under his seemingly awkward name, critics were standing in line to hail him as the new Bob Dylan. In 1970, Loudon Wainwright III (or Album 1, as it is also referred to) was a promising debut of a newly arrived songwriter, they all agreed. This kind of accolade earned him a spot at many a folk festival, but at the same time he would be criticized for not writing politically enough. Even to the amiable Wainwright, this must have seemed paradoxical for, like most beginning artists, he never asked to be called the new anything in the first place. Trying to make a comparison between him and any of his songwriting peers is pointless. His quality lies in the unique way he comments on ordinary events happening in -- and outside of -- his personal life. Depending on the mood of the song, he delivers them in a melancholic, at times even regretful, voice -- but he's also capable of being outright sarcastic. On his first album, the content is still largely poetic. From the beautifully depressing "Hospital Lady" and "Central Square Song" to the uplifting protest song "Uptown," this is a songwriter at an early stage in his career and determined to make a difference. With album-opener "School Days," he succeeds in a most charming way: It's an account of the promise of youth in which an adolescent Wainwright boasts of all the important things he accomplished during high school. Considering a line like "In the spring I had great hunger/I was Keats, I was Blake/My purple pencil pains I would bring/To frogs who sat entranced," who could possibly blame him? However, Wainwright's at his best when he's sardonically spitting (rather than singing) from the top of his toes, addressing people who think they know the answer or the way. Try "Four Is a Magic Number" or, even better, the exceptional "Glad to See You've Got Religion." Thankfully, this trademark delivery would accompany him on many more albums to come. ~ Quint Kik
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Rock - Released January 1, 1993 | Virgin Records

Following on the heels of History, Career Moves gave Loudon Wainwright III two of his best albums back to back. Career Moves captures Wainwright live at the Bottom Line in New York City, performing a sort of greatest-hits set and throwing in a few new songs as well. He goes through most of the concert alone with his guitar, bringing out multi-instrumentalists Chaim Tannenbaum and David Mansfield for a few numbers midway through the concert. The material here is universally strong, mixing satire and silliness with serious looks at Wainwright's personal life, his kids, his ex-wives, and his own life experiences. "Your Mother and I" is one of his greatest songs on one of his favorite topics, marital dissolution and its effect on children. "Tip That Waitress" should be in the repertoire of every struggling barroom musician. "The Acid Song" takes him over the top, and there is much laughter provided by songs like "Suddenly It's Christmas," "He Said She Said," and "T.S.M.N.W.A.," on which he bemoans the many ways his name has been misspelled through the years. There are also several examples of Wainwright's poignant, bittersweet, autobiographical balladeering, and reprises of 21-year-old classics like "The Swimming Song" and "The Man Who Couldn't Cry." The between-song patter and asides show Wainwright to be an entertaining standup comic, and the whole album provides lively evidence of his skills as a songsmith and live entertainer working an audience. ~ Jim Newsom
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Folk/Americana - Released February 20, 2012 | Sanctuary Records

So Damn Happy was Loudon Wainwright III's third live album, following 1979's A Live One and 1993's Career Moves (and not counting 1975's half-live Unrequited and 1998's collection of airchecks, BBC Sessions). Of its 17 songs, one, the autobiographical "Westchester County," first appeared on 1983's Fame and Wealth (and reappeared on Career Moves); another, "The Home Stretch," came from 1986's More Love Songs; four came from 1992's History; three from 1995's Grown Man; two from 1998's Little Ship; one, "Tonya's Twirls," from 1999's Social Studies; and five were new. (The Last Man on Earth, the album Wainwright was promoting on the January 2002 tour from which the performances were culled, was not tapped for any songs.) Performing at Largo in Los Angeles and at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma, CA, Wainwright was able to call upon a few key sidemen, David Mansfield, Richard Thompson, and Van Dyke Parks, for unobtrusive accompaniment, and his daughter Martha joined him in singing the caustic new song "You Never Phone." As usual, the material ranged from the touching to the hilarious, sometimes in the same tune. "Much Better Bets," the newly written leadoff track, was one of Wainwright's patented romantic laments. "Cobwebs," a request from the audience first heard on Grown Man and concerning that four-letter word starting with "L" so frequently used by the younger generation ("an audible pause," among other things, according to Wainwright), was a tongue-twister to which he couldn't get the lyrics straight, though the point was still made. And "Tonya's Twirls," though seemingly a topical song whose time had long since passed, continued to work whether one recalled Tonya Harding or not. Those were only the highlights of a disc that demonstrated Wainwright's wit was still sharp in his fourth decade of work. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Folk/Americana - Released April 28, 2000 | Ryko - Rhino

Most of these topical songs were penned for National Public Radio on events of the day such as Tonya Harding, O.J. Simpson and the Y2K crisis. But rather than playing like Tom Lehrer (or worse (gasp), Mark Russell), they are invested with Wainwright's typical insight and biting wit. Sure, you'll laugh, but who else could make Jesse Helms seem such a tragic character with the refrain, "Jesse's favorite painting is the one of the clown/With the daisy in his hand and the tear rolling down." More classics from the dark genius. ~ Tim Sheridan
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Rock - Released January 1, 1992 | Virgin Records

The best album of Loudon Wainwright III's career, History features a mix of the humorous and the serious, the autobiographical and the observational, the rockin' and the balladic, all wrapped up in some classy arrangements. There is a mood of personal reflection hanging over the entire proceeding, inspired by the death of Wainwright's father, a noted American writer and editor. "People in Love" kicks the whole thing off with one of Wainwright's trademark observations on the perils of love. On "Men," the singer quietly discusses the whys and wherefores of male behavior, while "The Picture" is a musical reflection on a picture of Loudon and his sister taken 40 years earlier (and reproduced inside the CD booklet). The album then continues with a clever classic of the satirical talking folk-blues genre, "Talking New Bob Dylan," in which Wainwright, once considered one of the many "new Dylans," salutes the original on his 50th birthday. The last three songs on the album form a powerful triumvirate, with "A Father and a Son" written by a man who is both, and "Sometimes I Forget," an extremely personal ballad about the loss of his own dad. The final track, "A Handful of Dust," was actually written by Loudon Wainwright, Jr. in 1952 and adapted by his son for this recording. For those familiar with Loudon Wainwright III only through his novelty hit "Dead Skunk," or who don't know his work at all, History will come as a revelation. For the small cult of Wainwright fans, its power and poignancy may also come as a wonderful surprise, for it's the album his previous work hinted might be within him. It is his masterpiece. ~ Jim Newsom
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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | Virgin Records

An album topped with wit and sharp humor, blended with a dash of railing vinegar, Grown Man, like all perceptive social satire, leaves you both laughing in recognition and crying in frustration at the human foibles it elucidates. Wainwright deals efficiently with all the standard preoccupations -- middle age ("The Birthday Present"), dependence ("Grown Man"), death ("That Hospital") -- but it are the odd twists that put the hair on Grown Man's chest. "Father Daughter Dialogue" gives his real-life daughter a free swing at his errant, vagabond minstrel ways as she sings the song's first half. "IWIWAL" skirts controversy, but the rockin' hoe-down is so good humored and ridiculously overblown ("I wish I was a Lesbian/I'd like to be a dyke/I would hang with k.d. lang/Mel Gibson take a hike/I think it would be nice to love someone who was alike") that the offended reaction of radicals on either end of the Gay Rights/Family Values tug of war would say far more about them than about Wainwright himself. "Housework" is a hilarious faux-country weeper from the perspective of a male abandoned to household chores while his wife parties ("And herein lies the rub: I even did the tub") -- and damn if the chorus doesn't curve in the trademark vocal style of his former spouse Kate McGarrigle -- it's the one moment Wainwright appears to turn the screw with an edge of malice. Then again, it may just be that there's more of the "real" Loudon Wainwright III in these songs than he's willing to let on. ~ Roch Parisien
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Rock - Released September 9, 2014 | Savoy

Twenty-six albums in, Loudon Wainwright's signature is etched even more deeply into the American songsmith grain on Haven't Got the Blues (Yet). Voiced in blues, roots, rock, country, folk, and even swing-jazz, his funny, biting, often tender observations of the four D's -- decay, death, depression, and drinking -- are all present, as are his dog Harry's unwelcome gifts, love in old age, and subjects that, as usual, engage questionable taste. Working once more with producer and longtime musical cohort David Mansfield and a wide array of musicians including horn and wind players, daughter Lucy Wainwright and the ubiquitous Aiofe O'Donovan also appear on backing vocals. The vintage '50s-style rock & roll of "Brand New Dance" kicks the set off: "There's a new dance craze sweeping the land/First you get outta bed then you attempt to stand...Now here's the hard part, here's the bad news/You got to bend over and put on your shoes..." "Spaced," a klezmer tune about alternate side-street parking, features a fine clarinet solo by Doug Wieselman and accordion by Andy Burton. "In a Hurry" is one of those great, empathic Wainwright songs. Played by a trio with Mansfield and Burton, its speaking subject is a pauper who addresses a businessman in a train station. He expresses his sympathy and lets him know he wouldn't trade worlds -- or troubles -- with him. Blues makes its presence known in "Depression Blues" (the back cover photograph of "Freud Lemon Jefferson" illustrates the song's subject; it's so hilarious it needs to be witnessed). Western Swing frames "The Morgue," a black-humored last laugh from a broken heart. Country and folk inhabit the center of the album on three excellent tunes -- "Harmless" (written by the late songwriter Michael Marra), "Man & Dog," and "Harlan County." "I Knew Your Mother" is a birthday song -- presumably for Lucy, who sings backup -- and is refreshingly honest about his relationship with his late ex-wife Kate McGarrigle. "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas" is a lithe swing tune with a deeply critical view of the NRA's propaganda war following the Newtown shootings. O'Donovan and bajo master Tony Trischka aid on the bluesy, beautifully written country-gospel in "God & Man." The set winds down with the droll jazz-blues of the title track -- which names the cover photograph's subject, sad clown Emmett Kelly. Finally, "Last Day of the Year" is an old-world saloon song. It's poignant in summoning the autumnal subjects of earlier tracks on HGTB(Y), and suggests that Wainwright accepts, with grudging respect, the aging process and what it entails, but he's still looking forward to new beginnings, however bittersweet. ~ Thom Jurek

Folk/Americana - Released March 1, 2010 | Cummerbund Music

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Rock - Released January 1, 1997 | Virgin Records

Little Ship is another solid entry in Loudon Wainwright III's series of '90s records cataloguing his domestic travails. There are a few weak moments and a tendency to be a little cutesy, but these hardly derail the album, because Wainwright is a journeyman who knows how to write sturdy songs. His sharp eye for lyrical detail makes the household songs ring, which is the key to Little Ship: the pleasure is in the details, whether it's the lyrics or the melodies, and that's why it's a diary piece worth investigating. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Folk/Americana - Released September 25, 2001 | Red House Records

In the years since his breakthrough masterpiece, History, Loudon Wainwright III has coasted on craftsmanship and loutish charm. The autobiographical tales of love and family on Grown Man and Little Ship bypassed the heart and gut in favor of the brain and funny bone. The themes were familiar; the emotions seemed played-out. What a difference suffering can make. Written after the death of his mother, Last Man on Earth is a brilliant return to form. It isn't as earthy or direct an album as History. Strings and doo wop background vocals occasionally adorn the arrangements, and Wainwright's phrasing has become fussy. He often insists on pronouncing two full words when a contraction would better suit the rhythm of the song. A mannered presentation, however, cannot cover up the depth of his soul-searching. The three opening songs ("Missing You," "Living Alone," and the ingenious "White Winos") add up to an exploration of loneliness as nuanced and poignant as any in popular music. The title track expands on the same sentiments, turning Wainwright's disdain of cell phones and the Internet into a commentary on isolation. And there could be no more appropriate ending to an album released in the wake of September 11, 2001, than the final lines of "Homeless": "Now I feel like I'm homeless/But I will be alright/I'll get through the days/I'll face down the night." It takes an exceptional artist to make an expression of personal sorrow seem relevant in a time of national crisis. Loudon Wainwright is an exceptional artist. ~ Daniel Browne
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1985 | New Rounder

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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | 429 Records

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Twenty-six albums in, Loudon Wainwright's signature is etched even more deeply into the American songsmith grain on Haven't Got the Blues (Yet). Voiced in blues, roots, rock, country, folk, and even swing-jazz, his funny, biting, often tender observations of the four D's -- decay, death, depression, and drinking -- are all present, as are his dog Harry's unwelcome gifts, love in old age, and subjects that, as usual, engage questionable taste. Working once more with producer and longtime musical cohort David Mansfield and a wide array of musicians including horn and wind players, daughter Lucy Wainwright and the ubiquitous Aiofe O'Donovan also appear on backing vocals. The vintage '50s-style rock & roll of "Brand New Dance" kicks the set off: "There's a new dance craze sweeping the land/First you get outta bed then you attempt to stand...Now here's the hard part, here's the bad news/You got to bend over and put on your shoes..." "Spaced," a klezmer tune about alternate side-street parking, features a fine clarinet solo by Doug Wieselman and accordion by Andy Burton. "In a Hurry" is one of those great, empathic Wainwright songs. Played by a trio with Mansfield and Burton, its speaking subject is a pauper who addresses a businessman in a train station. He expresses his sympathy and lets him know he wouldn't trade worlds -- or troubles -- with him. Blues makes its presence known in "Depression Blues" (the back cover photograph of "Freud Lemon Jefferson" illustrates the song's subject; it's so hilarious it needs to be witnessed). Western Swing frames "The Morgue," a black-humored last laugh from a broken heart. Country and folk inhabit the center of the album on three excellent tunes -- "Harmless" (written by the late songwriter Michael Marra), "Man & Dog," and "Harlan County." "I Knew Your Mother" is a birthday song -- presumably for Lucy, who sings backup -- and is refreshingly honest about his relationship with his late ex-wife Kate McGarrigle. "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas" is a lithe swing tune with a deeply critical view of the NRA's propaganda war following the Newtown shootings. O'Donovan and bajo master Tony Trischka aid on the bluesy, beautifully written country-gospel in "God & Man." The set winds down with the droll jazz-blues of the title track -- which names the cover photograph's subject, sad clown Emmett Kelly. Finally, "Last Day of the Year" is an old-world saloon song. It's poignant in summoning the autumnal subjects of earlier tracks on HGTB(Y), and suggests that Wainwright accepts, with grudging respect, the aging process and what it entails, but he's still looking forward to new beginnings, however bittersweet. ~ Thom Jurek
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1985 | New Rounder