Loudon Wainwright III

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History Review

by Jim Newsom

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.

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