Loudon Wainwright III

You gotta believe Loudon Wainwright sees a lot of himself in Charlie Poole, by all accounts a rambler, a gambler, a cad, and a rogue who led a wild, itinerant life until ending it prematurely in 1931 by drinking himself to death at age 39. Poole was also a banjo picker whose style presaged bluegrass, an artist whose definitive versions of an entire catalogue of songs are now old-timey standards reflecting both his outrageous lifestyle ("I'm the Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World") and a sentimental streak ("Sweet Sunny South"), and a very early hit-making recording artist ("Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues" in 1925). Wainwright has displayed most of those qualities and more across some four decades of wickedly cynical, incisively observant, often self-deprecating recordings, of which the commercial high point was "Dead Skunks." On Wainwright's epic, two-CD, lavishly packaged tribute, High, Wide & Handsome, he essentially becomes Poole, offering prickly versions of Poole's signature songs as well as new tunes by Loudon and producer Dick Connette written in Poole's voice. Cinematic in scope, it's packed with gems etched with the assistance of the Roches, Chaim Tannenbaum, Chris Thile, Geoff Muldaur, and Wainwright offspring Martha, Rufus, and Lucy. Opener Chris Smither has just released his own fine new album, Time Stands Still, sporting an array of fresh folk-blues fashioned by his elegant, finger-picked guitar work and expressive, ground-glass voice.(Photo by Michael Wilson)
Sat., Oct. 31, 8 p.m., 2009
 
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