Loudon Wainwright III seems to be enjoying a renaissance with this album, which isn’t bad for a man who’s already spent a little over half a century as a singer-songwriter. Interviews and reviews are plastered everywhere, quite something for an artist who’s just turned 76. The thing is, it’s actually a very good record; sharp, a little overly sentimental at times, often lyrically acute, and he still has one hell of a voice.
Those vocal qualities are on full display with “One Wish,” an unaccompanied piece, the type of thing that can expose all the frailties and fragilities in someone’s singing. But his voice is still strong and vital. True, he was never one of the great crooners, he didn’t have a tremendous range, but ironically he sounds younger and full of energy. Wainwright is certainly on top of his game.
Perhaps it’s because he’s accepted life, coming to terms with growing older, if maybe not entirely gracefully. The curmudgeonly “Fam Vac” is one of those 'I need a vacation from my vacation with the family' songs. But on “It Takes 2” and the countrified title track, there’s a surrender to the inevitable facts of life and the grudging sense that maybe having someone there isn’t such a bad thing – it can even be a plus, not a burden to carry.
“How Old Is 75?” is his most direct musing, with the sense of mortality breathing hard down the neck, everything sweetened by a string section. But it’s done without being maudlin, looking death and life directly in the eye.
Musically, Lifetime Achievement tends to be a very stripped-down affair, which effectively highlights the power of the material. But where he does bring in a band, as on the wry “Town & Country,” where a brass section gets to strut its stuff alongside a Hammond organ and lead guitar, there’s a neatly funky feel that wouldn’t have sounded far out of place on a Mose Allison disc – it has that sly laziness that verges on the hip.
In many ways, he hasn’t changed that much in 50-odd years of recording. He’s still a bit full of himself, and while there might not be any “Dead Skunk” or “Rufus Is A Tit Man” – at least he’s grown up a little bit – he can still make a song or a line snap. Still, anyone who’s sounding this good at 76 deserves the award.
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