Upon the release of his 1970 self-titled debut for Atlantic Records, Loudon Wainwright III was hailed as a "new Dylan." The comparison wasn't completely off-the-mark, given the artist's incisive, alternately wrenching and wry songwriting; and pinched, somewhat nasal voice as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar. But the lyrical content of Wainwright's songs was far-removed from The Bard of Hibbing's. Having been born to an affluent family (his father wrote the column "The View from Here" in Life) and raised in a New York suburb where Liza Minnelli was among his classmates, Wainwright hailed from a different place. His understanding of classic Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriting idioms was reflected in the considered structure and craft of his songs. He counted Leadbelly, Tom Lehrer, Hank Williams, and Louis Prima among his influences. Now, Cherry Red's Morello imprint has reissued Wainwright's first two albums - both for Atlantic Records - as a single-CD set.
The tender, sad "School Days" opened Loudon Wainwright III, with the singer-songwriter cataloguing his high school successes while staring the promise of youth straight in the eyes. That unflinching honesty characterizes both LWIII and its simply-titled 1971 follow-up, Album II. There's much ado about family, youth, and children, which is no surprise when considering Wainwright's own lineage. He's a direct descendant of New York colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant, had a famous father, and has famous children following in his footsteps: singer/songwriters Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Two of his wives were singers Kate McGarrigle and Suzzy Roche, both members of prominent musical families themselves. Younger sister Sloan Wainwright is another singer/songwriter. Loudon never shied away from the big topics. Suicidal thoughts, love, lust, and religion all figure into his songs on these two formative and utterly intimate albums.
Album II introduced the brutally honest "Motel Blues," in which the singer tries to convince a girl in his hotel room to spend the night in exchange for a song on his next LP. It rang uncomfortably true. In the hands of a lesser artist, it could have come off as glib, but in Wainwright's hands, it's a keenly-observed, regretful slice of life on the road. He drew on another personal experience for "Samson and the Warden," in which he's arrested for marijuana charges and begs the warden not to cut his hair and beard. (Wainwright was busted for possession of the drug in Oklahoma, apparently not the most forgiving of states in his estimation.) Humor and pathos went hand-in-hand in Wainwright's world, as did self-deprecating wit and deep vulnerability.
Fusing folk, country, blues, rock, and classic American songcraft, Loudon Wainwright III and Album II remain highlights of a career that has, to date, yielded 25 studio albums and 5 studio sets as well as various collections and the definitive 2011 box set 40 Odd Years. Loudon moved from Atlantic to Columbia, where he quickly scored a novelty hit with the atypical "Dead Skunk," and then to labels including Arista, Rounder, Silvertone, Virgin, Yep Roc, and Storysound for one acclaimed album after another. He's also distinguished himself as an actor for film, television, and stage.
Morello's reissue adds the bonus track "Drinking Song," mirroring the track listing of Rhino Handmade's 1999 release The Atlantic Recordings and its subsequent 2016 reissue from Real Gone Music. There's no additional content, but if you don't already have the Rhino or Real Gone editions, this is the release for you. Spencer Leigh provides brief, new liner notes here, and Alan Wilson has remastered the audio. Loudon Wainwright III/Album II is out now at the links below.
Loudon Wainwright III, Loudon Wainwright III/Album II (Cherry Red/Morello QMRLLS107, 2023) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- School Days
- Hospital Lady
- Ode to a Pittsburgh
- Glad to See You've Got Religion
- Black Uncle Remus
- Four Is a Magic Number
- I Don't Care
- Central Square Song
- Movies Are a Mother to Me
- Bruno's Place
- Me and My Friend the Cat
- Motel Blues
- Nice Jewish Girls
- Be Careful There's a Baby in the House
- Medley: I Know I'm Unhappy/Suicide Song/Glenville Reel
- Saw Your Name in the Paper
- Samson and the Warden
- Plane, Too
- Cook That Dinner, Dora
- Old Friend
- Old Paint
- Winter Song
- Drinking Song (Bonus Track)
Tracks 1-11 from Loudon Wainwright III, Atlantic LP SD 8260, 1970
Tracks 12-23 from Album II, Atlantic LP SD 8291, 1971
Track 24 from The Atlantic Recordings, Rhino Handmade CD RHM2 7709, 1999
Harry N Cohen says
If I read correctly...this is the 3rd reissue of these albums. There seems to be an overabundance lately of reissues that are...reissues.
Not in really the same style as Loudon, but I have been hoping for years for cd reissues of Mary Travers' solo albums (I know the first one as reissued as part of a PPM set) and Phoebe Snow's Columbia albums along with her debut album.
I am aware that the world of reissues is not built on my personal tastes (sigh), but Mary and Phoebe deserve to be heard again.
Peter Edward Gerstenzang says
Dylan’s stuff is universal. And he writes great melodies. LW doesn’t.