Loudon Wainwright III
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., May 20, 2011
Loudon Wainwright III40 Odd Years (Shout! Factory)
When Loudon Wainwright III began his career in the late 1960s, he kept his hair short and dressed in a conservative manner to stand apart from the hippies. The 4-CD/1-DVD 40 Odd Years is like that. There's nothing fancy about the dated and bulky box-set packaging, and although some of the photos therein are illuminating, it's all standard issue presentation. What's inside, however, speaks volumes – delightfully so. Compiled by Wainwright and co-produced with film director Judd Apatow, who explains his presence in the liner notes, 40 Odd Years spans the career of the singer-songwriter once dubbed "a new Dylan." While both worked the same side of the street, the two couldn't be further apart. The New York-raised son of a columnist and editor of Life magazine, Wainwright's compositions, even to this day, are about himself and those people and things that surround him. His manner is blunt, deep, heartrending, and at times hysterical. He may be a one-hit wonder – "Dead Skunk" made it all the way to No. 16 in 1973 – but a cult following developed over time. As actor Peter Jason puts it in the outstanding One Man Guy DVD documentary that's included here, "[Loudon] can explain something in a way that has never been explained before, and it touches you." Naturally there will be some grumbling about what was and wasn't included among the 91 songs on the CDs, but the video portion is phenomenal. More than three hours long, and besides the documentary produced for Dutch television in 1993, there are TV appearances on the BBC, Saturday Night Live from 1975, Austin City Limits from both '88 and '99, and several concert performances, including a standout with Joe Henry, Greg Leisz, and Christopher Guest from the recent Grammy-winning The Charlie Poole Project. Now the 64-year-old patriarch of a musical family whose guest appearances by Rufus, Martha, the McGarrigles, and the Roches are sprinkled throughout 40 Odd Years, one can only hope Wainwright's next four decades are just as fruitful.