Loudon Wainwright III
Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou
Saturday 27th April 2013
Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou
You can see the age difference when you look at the concession stands. Loudon Wainwright just had CDs. Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou being young, had CDs, plus two 12” vinyl albums, and one 10” vinyl album all on their own Anglophone label with first rate cover designs by Trevor Moss. The first album says they’re like “Fairport Convention with the pop sensibilities of Fleetwood Mac.” I can see that. They specialize in harmony duets, both sharing one microphone tightly and it sounds brilliant. Any sound mixer would prefer two, but in fact the single shared mic really adds to the “feel” of their act. They have strongly contrasting voices. His is more nasal, hers is sweeter. It makes for a lovely combination, reminding me first of The Everly Brothers (who I would have quoted instead of Fairport). Then of the Dawn McCarthy / Bonnie Prince Billy recent album What The Brothers Sang re-doing the Everly Brothers more obscure songs with a male / female duet. But actually, just think The Civil Wars or The Mastersons for a similar guitar + duo sound.
Where I was so mightily impressed with them was in the original songs, and the lyrics and vocal arrangement. Unlike so many budding folk acts, they have the songs to match their vocal abilities. I haven’t been so impressed with an opening act in years,. And my mind flew back forty years to seeing America as a support band just before A Horse With No Name launched their careers.
They’re justly proud of having recorded all their second album La Ferme de Fontenaille themselves on a TEAC 4-track CASSETTE recorder on TDK SA cassettes. Hmm. Even in the glory days of cassette with access to a Nakamichi, I wouldn’t have mastered anything on it (Yes, I know about Nebraska). I did lots of published spoken voice on a UHER Report portable open-reel, but cassette? It’s a mystery like Mercury Rev choosing to record on 35 mm film. Having said that, it sounds superb, and I guess the cassette original imposes a discipline of doing everything straight through every time.
They play guitars and harmonica. She has a large Gibson acoustic, he has a neat small Guild. Excellent sound, as with the voices. I really love the home industry side of it all, but another part of me’s going, ‘Right, now add a bass player, a sympathetic drummer, perhaps a violin and piano and …’
I would have been happy if they’d been the whole show. I often buy a support band’s album in a fit of enthusiasm at the gig, then play it once or twice. I had a long 100 mile each way drive the morning after the show, and put four or five CDs in the car. I listened to What The Brothers Sang once through, switched to La Ferme de Fontenaille and listened to it right through four times. I got back, and decided to add this note to the review, and immediately put it on to listen again. If you like the Civil Wars and The Mastersons keep an eye on this pair. The strength of the songwriting shines through. The only point I’d make is that they seemed nervous and gabbled their names and the stuff about the CD being on sale. Breathe deeply, relax and don’t feel hurried over these intros.
If you want to try them, the track For A Minute There is on YouTube in the album version with a video.
Loudon Wainwright III
Loudon Wainwright III was the only member of the family I hadn’t seen. The rest were all at the Brighton Leonard Cohen tribute, and I’ve seen Rufus since then. I have most of Rufus’s albums, I just counted six, one of Martha’s and two of the McGarrigles, but until recently, no Loudon. We used to listen to Loudon quite a bit in the early 70s, and he’s somehow between genres. I used to think of him as a folkier Randy Newman … humour and irony in most the songs. Humour is a hard thing to pull off, unless you’re Benny Hill, Weird Al Yankovi or Kinky Friedman, and going flat out for it. Both Newman and Wainwright had irony, and cynical humour, but also poignancy. As Frank Zappa entitled an LP, “Does Humour Belong in Music?” But Randy Newman had strong songs with touches of comedy. Loudon Wainwright always seemed the other way: comedy songs with touches of seriousness. That aligns him with the tradition of stage spoken-voice comedians who always used to like to do one or two straight songs.
I’ve watched Randy Newman’s live videos, and bought the live albums. I never liked this live work anywhere near as much as the crafted studio work. I don’t like him with just piano either. I love the studio material. Loudon Wainwright was always the reverse. I always enjoyed an album the first time through listening to the lyrics, but never had much desire to own it, or even listen again. The point had been made on first hearing. So a good one to see live.
Then to recent albums. I was attracted first to Songs For The New Depression, then to the latest album, Older Than My Old Man Now because I heard the title track, and it rings bells. It starts with an extract from his journalist father. Loudon Wainwright Jnr (i.e. II). Wainwright II’s dad died when he was seventeen, mine died a few days after my 19th birthday. Like Loudon’s dad, I look in the mirror and think “I’m way older than my dad ever got to. He never experienced this time in life.”
Older Than My Old Man Now is a fine album, but then you have to incorporate I Remember Sex as a duet with Dame Edna Everidge in the middle, and then you’re in full comedy mode. How do you work it into the flow of the album? On this show he simply did it solo with slight changes of words and it got one of the best reactions of the evening. We know where we are comedy.
So to the main part of the evening. I was underwhelmed. At one point he asked for requests, and said they all sounded the same with the same chords. Actually, they do a bit. That’s why the pleasure is listening to the lyrics. Melodically the song In C stands out on the Older Than My Old Man Now album, and it did here, played on piano. If he had a couple more like that, with little touches of humour but equally strong melodies, the evening would have more variety.
He had some fun about George Jones’s recent demise, saying he should sing one of his country greats, but didn’t know them, so he’d do one of his own country greats instead. Yes, a lot was funny. He did a couple of songs from his Grammy Award winning Charlie Poole Project set, and did the title track, Poole’s High Wide and Handsome (noting that he was playing Poole in Poole).
Strangely for someone so experienced on stage, his microphone technique is odd. He drives it to “pop” a lot, and especially when doing spoken voice recitations holding it in his hand. I’ve tried to record people like that many times. It’s some kind of inate and sudden over-projection … the support act, using the same mic, AND having to share it, never got a single pop. He got a lot of pops, or sudden words that leapt into over-volume. So his sound wasn’t great.
Part of the concept was reciting his dad’s journalistic essays for “Life” magazine. I think there were four interspersed through the show. The one about buying a suit in 1960s Savile Row was brilliantly done and great writing. He had a clothes rack and armchair as props for this. The one about his dad’s last essay in 1988, on maps was touching. The very, very, very, very long sentimental one about a dog was dire and tedious. If it had gone on much longer, I would have drifted off altogether. I’m not a dog person, and this had zero interest or humour to me. I didn’t get back in the mood after it.
All in all, I was definitely a little bored by the end. He does great audience interaction, he’s likeable, but the constant facial gurning with his tongue lolling out, and grimacing starts to wear, and the songs begin to blend into each other.