Loudon Wainwright III

Haven't Got the Blues (Yet)

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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.

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