Sunday, 30 July 2017

"The Atlantic Recordings" by LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III (June 2016 Real Gone Music CD Reissue – 2LPs from 1970 and 1971 Remastered onto 1CD Plus One Previously Unreleased Outtake – Dan Hersch Remasters) featuring Kate McGarrigle and Saul Broudy - A Review by Mark Barry...

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This CD Reissue contains the two albums 
"Loudon Wainwright III" (August 1970)
and "Album II" (July 1971)
Plus One Bonus Track

Loudon Wainright III's first two bare-bones LPs from 1970 and 1971 made very little impact sales-wise (especially in the UK) - but have ever since remained a cool pool of refreshing water for those who thirst after honest contemporary US Folk with brains, emotional courage and an acidic tongue. But their availability on CD has been problematic for decades…until now…

This stunning relaunch from America's 'Real Gone Music' is a June 2016 single-CD reissue of a mail-order-only website-CD Rhino Handmade put out Stateside in December 1999 - itself a limited edition of 5000 numbered copies. That initial CD pressing sold out almost immediately – as did a short-lived reissue in November 2003 - and both versions have been hard to locate ever since – garnishing high prices in some places too.

Well now along comes Real Gone Music to the rescue of fans by reissuing that collectable at a reasonable cost and still with the great Dan Hersch Remastered Audio and decent liner notes (including the lyrics). Packaging-wise the only difference is that 1999's Rhino Handmade RHM2-7709 (Barcode 081227770921) came in a numbered card-sleeve while this is your basic jewel case (non-numbered).

Essentially what you're getting are his debut LP "Loudon Wainwright III" from August 1970 (USA) and the follow-up "Album II" from July 1971 (both originally on Atlantic Records) - as well as one Previously Unreleased Bonus Track from the "Album II" sessions left off the original LP due to time restrictions. With his razor-sharp wit, strangulated vocal delivery and obvious lyrical prowess - it's hardly surprising too that these 1970 and 1971 recordings of one-man-and-his guitar have been favourably compared to 1962 and 1963 Bob Dylan - LW III simply updating the scenarios to his own Delaware days of sin and redemption. And with a playing time of 78-minutes-plus - you can't argue that "Atlantic Recordings" isn't great value for money too. There's a lot to wade through - so here are the Uptown details and it's time to cook that dinner Dora...

US released 3 June 2016  - "The Atlantic Recordings" by LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III on Real Gone Music RGM-0461 (Barcode 848064004615) offers 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD with One Previously Unreleased Bonus Track that plays outs as follows (78:27 minutes):

1. School Days [Side 1]
2. Hospital Lady
3. Ode To A Pittsburgh
4. Glad To See You've Got Religion
5. Uptown
6. Black Uncle Remus [Side 2]
7. Four Is A Magic Number
8. I Don't Care
9. Central Square Song
10. Movies Are A Mother To Me
11. Bruno's Place
Tracks 1 to 11 are his debut album "Loudon Wainwright III" - released 17 August 1970 in the USA on Atlantic SD 8260 and October 1970 in the UK on Atlantic 2400 103 (reissued in 1973 on Atlantic K 40107). All songs by LW III - produced by LW III and MILTON KRAMER.

12. Me And My Friend The Cat [Side 1]
13. Motel Blues
14. Nice Jewish Girls
15. Be Careful There's A Baby In The House
16. (a) I Know I'm Unhappy (b) Suicide Song (c) Genville Reel
17. Saw Your Name In The Paper
18. Samson And The Warden [Side 2]
19. Plane, Too
20. Cook That Dinner, Dora
21. Old Friend
22. Old Paint
23. Winter Song
Tracks 12 to 23 are his second studio album "Album II" - released 5 July 1971 in the USA on Atlantic SD 8291 and August 1971 in the UK on Atlantic 2400 142 (reissued in 1973 on Atlantic K 40272). All songs by LW III - produced by LW III and MILTON KRAMER. Guests - Kate McGarrigle sings Backing Vocal and Saul Broudy plays Harmonica on "Old Paint" only.

24. Drinking Song
Recorded February 1971 – it was intended to be placed on Side 2 (Track 3) but there was enough room Previously Unreleased Studio Recording Outtake.

The substantial 20-page booklet is entirely US-based with new (November 1999) liner notes entitled "An Unflinching Stare" are a 'reflection' by PETER FALLON on Wainwright's melodic style and blunt-as-a-mallet skill with words. Pages 4 and 5 with Pages 11 and 12 offer full-page plates of both album covers (back and front) - whilst the all-important lyrics are reproduced for both albums (and the lone outtake) for the first time. DAN HERSCH of Rhino fame has handled the tapes and the Remasters are gorgeous - one man and his guitar - clean, atmospheric, vibrant and filling up your room with that air analogue has.

I'm no fool about Wainwright. I saw him live at Ireland's second 'Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival' in 1979 (a headliner) where he promptly slaughtered the crowd one sunny beautiful day. They loved his honesty, sense of humour and 'Rufus The Tit Man' tunes. Wainwright was dragged back to the stage for more - more – more – beaming to the encores that were genuine. But I also had a mate of mine who in early Seventies Dublin couldn't abide the nasal whine of his voice - never mind the often barren-nature of his song-subjects. So instead of guffawing - he'd come out in a rash at the mere mention of LW III's name. Therefore in my book musically both albums would be an acquired taste. But if you do get into his acoustic tales of woe and love (and I know many who have) - you may find yourself studying every chord change and memorising those brilliant lyrics to impress your mates next time you're in that village pub with a roaring fire and a few pints of Dutch courage.

The debut opens with a tale of his Delaware younger days ("School Days") where LW was the James Dean tearaway begged by girls to join them in their boudoirs. Afterward he would pencil his pimple parables riling against those who tried to force their religious moralising down his throat. In "Hospital Song" he is touched by a dying old lady whom he knows was once a pretty young thing in 1953 - but now her new lover is the Reaper waiting with a stone face at the end of the bed (gorgeously simple acoustic melody). Both "Ode To A Pittsburgh" and "Glad To See You Got Religion" start feeling bitter and angry - strumming hard with his machine that kills fascists – raging against people who don’t discharge their creative juices while old LW can’t wait too. All the freaks are freaking him out in "Uptown" - hailing a cab – reading the Allied Chemical News en route – head into the Garden in the rain for some Basketball or maybe Boxing. Many will know the brilliant "Black Uncle Remus" – it’s death-letter-blues, catfish catches and rusted banjo strings turning up on CD compilations that want to impress with their cool.

"Four Is A Magic Number" opens Side 2 of "Loudon Wainwright III" with more acoustic guitar and his desperate Willie Nile voice regaling about a sinking sinner in the gutter. "I Don't Care" has the slow melancholy of say Leo Kottke or even Tim Buckley on a purely Folk tip - bidding his girl goodbye as she heads off to San Francisco for sand-in-the-hair nights on the beach with someone else. Mary McGuire and Big Frank Clark get drunk in "Central Square Song" - their six-pack passion making them act like teenagers – and petulant ones at that. Loudon's love of escape comes roaring out of "Movies Are A Mother To Me" - films on a rainy Tuesday giving him back some sort of recovered sanity. The debut ends on the jaunty "Bruno's Place" where yoga-girls and Swamii-pearls hang out in Bruno's meat-less apartment down on Seventh Street (he trashes his guitar like Richie Havens getting carried away on stage). In truth I don't think Side 2 is as good as Side 1 on the starter album - but LP2 is another matter…

If his undeniable songwriting and social commentary brilliance was gestating on the debut – then for me it explodes into proper magic on "Album II". I like almost every song on it. "Me And My Friend The Cat" and "Motel Blues" open the second LP in grand style - very cool melodies and words. The second Atlantic Records sampler LP "The New Age Of Atlantic" from March 1972 (the British LP was on Atlantic K 20024) gave the song "Motel Blues" from "Album II" a rare plug. The compilers no doubt hoped that lyrics like "...the Styrofoam bucket's full of ice...Come up to my motel room...treat me nice..." would tickle the public's buying fancy (not to be unfortunately). Even better song-wise is "Nice Jewish Girls" where his Episcopalian schooling isn't helping as LW stares at those ladies with surnames like Pearlstein - his Yiddish young-man juices starting to bubble uncontrollably (and not for their skills with a bagel). A newborn bundle of joy is jarring his nerves in "Be Careful There's A Baby In The House" - or is the kid's parents and their smug remarks that are getting on his trupenny bits. More misery follows in the weary and inebriated three-parter "I Know I'm Unhappy..." where our hero rarely makes love but regularly gets laid. Wainwright ends a masterful Side 1 with "Saw Your Name In The Paper" where he's happy for a talented friend from the past but warns that their heroics might induce slavery to something else – becoming a limelight chaser – a junky for fame.

There is a superb simplicity and therefore power to Side 2's "Plane, Too" where he lists the people and things on his flight. They can't get away - can't get out - and as he looks in the 747’s toilet mirror - realises that neither can he. "...Set that place for me...Arm me with utensils..." Wainwright asks of Dora in "Cook That Dinner..." where you suspect that his mealtime might contain something else baked into his cottage pie other than mincemeat.  You wish Wainwright had let both Kate McGarrigle and Saul Broudy onto other tracks – they add hugely to "Old Paint". It ends on a brilliant acoustic melody "Winter Song" and you can so hear why he thought the equally good "Drinking Song" should have been on the album.

In all honesty I'd forgotten about these Loudon Wainwright III records – especially that deeply satisfying second LP. I'm also left with more than a feeling that these 1970 and 1971 Atlantic Records recordings contain overlooked gems that deserve a second-go-round - even if they are a bit misery-guts. And typical of many musicians with a penchant for the neurotic muddle of life and loving – Loudon is a damn good actor too…

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