What does it sound like?:
This relatively new album released in 2020 is called I’d Rather Lead A Band, taken from an Irving Berlin song included in this collection of classics from the 1920’s and 30’s, – and it is probably a sentiment Loudon genuinely holds. After all those albums of whingeing, mocking, humour, nastiness, indiscretion, tenderness , empathy and sadness it probably takes something new to get this 74 year old veteran up for a new recording. I’ve been a fan from his first album which gave rise to the “new Dylan” baggage. I lost interest a bit in the middle loved the reworking of his earlier material on Recovery album he did with Joe Henry at the panel and the Strange Weirdos soundtrack is still a regular at Chez Wells (maybe it is the orchestration?). The Charlie Poole tribute set High Wide And Handsome is very well done but it doesn’t get a lot of airplay in my house and those last couple – Older Than My Old Man Now and Haven’t got The Blues (Yet) had Loudon covering the usual themes with the usual bunch. So as Loudon must surely approach retirement I was happy to retire Loudon.
So what am I doing buying the newie? Well, there was a story on TV which covered a record store I used to frequent when working in the CBD and the owner said that one day during the (for us) post-COVID avoidance of the city she had made less money than the cost of her bus fare. So, having other business in town, I paid the store a visit. A pretty sad time – few customers means less stock which means less customers. I was struggling to find something to buy. So, with not much enthusiasm I grabbed this album.
Much to my surprise it has been a regular – particularly while cooking dinner. It is a great singalong record performed by musicians who love the music. Loudon explains that he grew up listening to these songs in his father’s collection. He sings the songs with an enthusiasm borne of familiarity and affection. Listening to these very clever and seamless lyrics you can hear the influence on his own songcraft. So pithy, so on-the-mark.
And the band, lemme tell you about the band.
Vince Gordano and The Nighthawks are an institution in New York playing this era music for years. If I ever get back to New York I will be checking if they are still doing shows. There are 17 musicians on this plus Loudon and other vocalists. They are top notch and include on violin David Mansfield, who I assume is the David Mansfield Dylan and the Alpha Band fame. Vince and band have done a lot of work in movies – appearing on screen and on soundtracks. Cartoons too. And this is where band and singer crossed paths. The liner notes explain that LW first recorded with Vince et al in 2004 for Scorsese’s movie The Aviator then for a few episodes in the HBO series The Boardwalk. Plus, Loudon asserts, he has been a paying audience member when in New York.
With both parties holding a deep familiarity and love of the music it shows in the performances. Loudon Wainwright III may not have the best voice, certainly not the best voice that has ever sung these songs, but he has great personality, excellent phrasing and he swings. His voice is a bit lower and there is less of those comic vocal tropes that can devalue his singing. Loudon is loving being with the band.
As he describes, the collection includes the more familiar – Aint Misbehavin, You Rascal You, My Blue Heaven, Heart And Soul, I Thought About You as well as more arcane stuff to use his description. (BTW Loudon’s liner notes are great for directing you to excellent versions as well as YouTube clips). I enjoyed them all but a few highlights for me include A Ship Without A Sail ( it could have been written by LW), A Perfect Day…just you and me, and baby makes three – he spotted that in a Barbara Stanwyck/Fred McMurray movie and the closer More I Cannot Wish You by Frank Loesser.
OK so by now you might have picked up that I really like this record. You might too.
What does it all *mean*?
Please go away COVID so Loudon can perform these songs live in New York with Vince Gordano and the Nighthawks.
Goes well with…
A couple of drinks while cooking dinner.
Might suit people who like…
Loudon Wainwright, big bands, great song writing, timeless clever witty lyrics.