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Dick Connette Interview on Beyond a Song

Host Rich Reardin talks with  New York City composer, musician, and songwriter Dick Connette. Dick Connette was born in 1951 in New York City. In 1969 he went to Harvard, intending to major in Mathematics, but soon switched his concentration to Music and American and English Literature. After graduating in 1974, cum laude with a degree in General Studies, Connette moved back to New York City, where he studied percussion (snare drum, marimba, tympani) privately with James Preiss. From 1979 to 1992, under the pseudonym A. Leroy, Connette was active on the downtown scene, running his own Soho recording studio, and working as a freelance musician/composer, often in collaboration with choreographers, video and film makers, and theater artists. Since 1992, Connette has worked under his own name, most notably devoting himself to writing music and songs based on American folk and popular traditions, under the project name Last Forever. He first worked with singer Mimi Goese (Hugo Largo, Ben Neill), and then, a few years later, with Sonya Cohen, daughter of the New Lost City Ramblers' John Cohen, niece of Pete and Mike Seeger, and the granddaughter of composer Ruth Crawford Seeger and musicologist Charles Seeger.

 In 1997 Nonesuch released the first Last Forever CD, chosen by the New York Times as one of the year's top releases. fRoots in a feature article said the album "deserves to be shouted from the rooftops … the whole record is a thing of wonder." In 2000 Nonesuch put out Last Forever's second CD, Trainfare Home. According to fRoots it was "more varied, evolved even, than their first," and Sing Out! called it "fascinating" and "one of the best releases of the past year.”
In 2015, around the time of the final Last Forever album, Acres of Diamonds, Sonya Cohen, full creative partner in the project for over 20 years, died from cancer, aged just 50. Since then, Connette has continued to write and arrange songs out of the American tradition, under the new project name Too Sad for the Public, working with singers Suzzy Roche, Ana Egge, Rachel Garniez, Gabriel Kahane, Rayna Gellert, and Chaim Tannenbaum.
 
 In New York City, there have been concert performances of Connette’s work at St. Ann's Church, Dance Theater Workshop, the Kitchen, PS 122, the La MaMa Annex, the Knitting Factory,  Symphony Space, Merkin Hall, and Central Park's SummerStage. He has received grants from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Art Matters, and The Beard's Fund. In 1990 he won a Bessie New York Dance and Performance Award, and in 2009 he won a Grammy for his work on Loudon Wainwright III's High Wide & Handsome.
 
 In 2005, Connette and Tony Award-winner sound designer Scott Lehrer opened up 2nd Story Sound, a recording studio gut-rehabbed out of an old industrial building on the Lower East Side of New York City. Rufus Wainwright, Anohni, yMusic, Linda Thompson, Bob Neuwirth, Marc Ribot, Jake Shears, Michael Daves, Nico Muhly, Hazmat Modine, John Scofield, Chris Smither, Suzzy Roche, Duncan Sheik, Geoff Muldaur, Chis Thile, Aoife O'Donovan, Dave Douglas, and Julian Lage have all worked and recorded there.
 In 2009, Connette launched his record company, StorySound. It began as way of re-releasing his Nonesuch Last Forever CDs, but has since then expanded considerably. StorySound has put out 15 CDs, including albums by Loudon Wainwright III, Gabriel Kahane, Rayna Gellert, Chaim Tannenbaum, Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout, Margaret Glaspy, Rachelle Garniez, and the Joe Boyd-produced Nick Drake tribute, Way to Blue. The label has grown, naturally enough, out of the social and professional life of the studio - the sessions, the pantry hangs, the players and producers, engineers and arrangers, composers, singers and songwriters that are part of its daily life, and has no grander ambition than to make a good home for music that Connette cares about.
 
Musical selections include: That's Enough, Do The Do, Old Alabama, John Doe #24, Then Go Home, Dillard Chandler, Wonder of the World, Black River Falls.

Listen to Part One and Part Two of the interview.

Black River Falls Video Premiered on No Depression

No Depression

Dick Connette and Suzzy Roche Debut Striking New Video for "Black River Falls"

by Brittney McKenna

Photo by Lydia Panas.

A few weeks after the release of his new album Too Sad for the Public - Vol. 1 Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade (American Folk Fantasies), composer and producer Dick Connette has shared a video for the Suzzy Roche collaboration "Black River Falls." Visual artist Lewis Klahr created the eye-catching clip, which features a mix of found objects, photographs, and drawings, many of which were vintage store finds. 

"Working on my digital film for 'Black River Falls' was a great pleasure as I got to collage images to the music of two longterm faves—composer Dick Connette and singer Suzzy Roche," Klahr explains. "The lucidity and power of the lyrics gave me a great deal of freedom to create a visual montage that complemented and enlarged the overview of the town being described. The imagery was culled from a 1930s encyclopedia that I purchased in a highway rest stop restaurant/used bookstore on the Massachusetts turnpike way back in the early 1980s."

Connette wrote and arranged the haunting tune, which lends Roche's ethereal vocals the perfect spare backdrop and plenty of breathing room. He found inspiration for the song's lyrics in a 1973 book of photographs and anecdotes about the Wisconsin city Black River Falls.

"Most of the stories told in this song came from Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, which I recommend unreservedly to your attention, as well as anything else he turns his attention to," Connette explains. "The shape of the melody and the banjo/cello part I got from Karen Dalton’s version of 'Same Old Man.' I feel the same way about her as I do about Lesy."

Other vocalists on Too Sad for the Public include Ana Egge, Rachelle Garniez, and Gabriel Kahane, with guest spots from instrumentalists Rayna Gellert, Chaim Tannebaum, Erik Friedlander, Steve Elson, and Jay Berliner.

Too Sad for the Public is out now. Watch the video for "Black River Falls" HERE.  

Too Sad For The Public - Reviewed by Mike Regenstreif in Folk Roots/Folk Branches

Too Sad for the Public – Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade: American Folk Fantasies Written and Arranged by Dick Connette

By Mike Regenstreif

For 20 years, since the release of the first CD by Last Forever, I’ve greatly admired the work of composer/songwriter/producer Dick Connette. In Last Forever, he teamed with the late vocalist Sonya Cohen to produce several albums of completely reimagined traditional songs and original songs steeped in tradition. I continue to find great musical riches whenever I return to the Last Forever albums – which I have done often.
 
Much of the material on Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade: American Folk Fantasies Written and Arranged by Dick Connette, his new project – recorded under the group name ‘Too Sad for the Public’ – continues in the vein of Last Forever with original songs based on traditional themes and a couple of fascinating covers of pop songs. The lead vocals are in the capable hands of Suzzy Roche (four songs), Rachelle Garniez (one song), Ana Egge (two songs) and Gabriel Kahane (one song).
 
All of the vocal songs on the album are entirely praiseworthy. Perhaps my favorite, if I had to pick just one, is “Black River Falls,” sung by Suzzy. The melody and chorus are based on Karen Dalton’s version of the traditional folksong “Same Old Man,” and the verses, each of which stands on its own, are based on Michael Lesy’s book. Wisconsin Death Trap.
 
Other favorites include “Old Alabama,” sung by Ana, which takes its inspiration from several traditional songs, most notably “Old Country Rock,” a country blues first recorded by William Moore in 1928 (the group name, Too Sad for the Public, comes from a repeated line in this song); and “Orphée in Opelousas,” sung by Gabriel, Dick’s reimagination of the Orpheus legend from Greek mythology which he sets in Louisiana to a score based on traditional Cajun songs.
 
I also love what he’s done with the two covers. “He’s a Bad Boy,” sung by Suzzy, was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin in the early-1960s. As John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers (and Sonya Cohen’s father) pointed out to Dick, the song is a teenage variation on “Stagger Lee.”
 
“Young Loves to Love,” sung by Ana, is a medley of two early Van Morrison songs – “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Sweet Thing.” The latter song came from Astral Weeks (my second favorite Morrison album) and the arrangement is reminiscent of it – and prominently features the nylon-string guitar playing of Jay Berliner, whose playing was a key component of Astral Weeks.  
 
The other theme that runs through the album is a tribute to the late Chuck Brown, a Washington, D.C. guitarist who was known as “The Godfather of Go-Go,” a form of funk music. This is first heard in “Liberty City,” a Jaco Pastorius tune that Brown quoted in one his own tunes. Dick offers three short passages from “Liberty City” as strategic interludes during the album. Then, as the penultimate track, there is the 12-minute go-go instrumental “Chuck Baby,” a direct tribute to Brown, whose intensity never stops swirling and building.
 
While the go-go tracks might initially seem an odd coupling with the folk-inspired material, Dick Connette and the musicians of Too Sad for the Public bring it all together in a way that just seems right.
 

Dick variously plays harmonium, piano, bass and bass drum throughout the album. In addition to the singers, he is joined by a core group of five musicians – including Chaim Tannenbaum on harmonica –and 12 other contributing musicians. Dick’s arrangements are masterful from the opening notes of the first track until the end of the album.

Elmore Magazine Review

Too Sad for the Public
Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade

This is the new project from New York City artist and Grammy-winning producer Dick Connette, who has previously released four acclaimed albums based on American folk and popular traditions under the name Last Forever. This diverse music either continues or expands on that concept, employing four different lead singers and an ensemble of 17 musicians. Mashed up in the mix is Delta blues, folk music, jazz of Jaco Pastorius, go-go music of Chuck Brown, and even a creative combination of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” together with “Sweet Thing,” featuring the guitar of Astral Weeks standout, Jay Berliner.

Yes, the group name is a bit odd and belies much of the music. The story associated with it stems from a tune on the album called “Old Alabama” taken from bluesman William Moore’s 1928 tune, “Old Country Rock.” It consists of bluesy finger-picking behind a series of spoken imperatives. While many of those spoken passages were conventionally predictable, out of nowhere Moore exclaimed “Too sad, I mean, too sad for the public.” This, and many other interesting stories and anecdotes are included in musicologist Connette’s liner notes.

The album devotes most of its playing time to ’80s go-go music star, the D.C.-based Chuck Brown, who made a lasting impression on Connette when he played NYC’s Tramps in the ’80s. “Chuck Baby” runs for over 12 minutes, and you hear references to it in the opening track, “Prelude” as well.

Pastorius’ “Liberty City” is rendered in three parts, serving as interludes between the vocal pieces. Connette does not sing but defers to Suzzy Roche, Ana Egge, Rachelle Garniez, and Gabriel Kahane. Egge does both “Old Alabama” and the Van Morrison combo, “Young Loves to Love” while Roche takes lead on three of the eight vocal tunes. Strong instrumental contributions come from Chaim Tannenbaum (harmonica) and Rayna Gellert(fiddle).

The music is at times entrancing and dreamlike, but it keeps changing to the point where “Chuck Baby” may get you up and dancing. The Harvard-educated Connette has been writing music based on American folk traditions since 1992 but his palette that includes his own recording studio, label, work with choreographers, video and film makers, and theater artists. There’s tons of influences in his approach which, if you’re like me, will motivate you to not only go for repeated listens here but to seek out his catalog. Connette has a vision of American music that runs beyond the common genres into 20th Century classical, vaudeville, and even minstrelsy. Best yet, this is only Volume 1.

—Jim Hynes

Elmore Magazine Premieres "He's A Bad Boy" Featuring Suzzy Roche

Elmore Premiere: Suzzy Roche delivers “He’s A Bad Boy." Dick Connette's CD Too Sad For The Public makes us happy.
Songwriter/composer Dick Connette intended to major in Mathematics at Harvard, but was soon seduced into Music and American and English Literature studies. After graduating cum laude, he studied percussion (snare drum, marimba, tympani) ran his own Soho recording studio and worked as a freelance musician/composer. In 1997 Nonesuch released Connette’s the first (of four) Last Forever CDs, which the New York Times named one of the year’s top releases.

With Last Forever, Connette released four albums based on American folk and popular traditions. His new project, Too Sad for the Public, Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade, features six originals and two covers, with vocals by Suzzy Roche, Ana Egge, Rachel Garniez, and Gabriel Kahane, among others—17 artists in all. Elmore’s proud to premiere Suzzy Roche’s cover of Carole King’s “He’s a Bad Boy.”

Here’s what Connette told us about “He’s A Bad Boy,”: “Some years ago, I was trying to give John Cohen a taste of some music outside his accustomed folk fare, and played him this Goffin/King number. I had the temerity to think I should/could stretch him out some. He immediately identified the song as a take on ‘Stagger Lee.’ Well, dammit, he was right, of course, and I got schooled. Turns out Gerry Goffin was shook by the folk scare, primarily as embodied by Bob Dylan, and this was, evidently, an attempt to incorporate. King gave it a sort of Belafonte island/calypso vibe, hardly au courant, at best only recently passé, and part of that whole ’50s/’60s pop-folk-radio-roots movement, you know – The Weavers, The Limeliters, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary – that crowd. Whatever their intentions, Gerry and Carole reverted to (spectacular) form, and turned a bad man ballad into an expression of lovestruck teenage defiance. For my version, I put Lloyd Price front and back, and Frank Hutchinson in the middle, trying to keep the faith with whatever the fuck is going on here.”

Click HERE to read the story and listen to the song.

Dick Connette Shares His Musical Scope on ArtistDirect

Legendary singer songwriter on the influences behind his star-studded new sequence, "Too Sad For The Public"

Dick Connette is an artist whose name resonates amongst those in the Americana hall of fame. The humble, legendary, traveling musician has worked with a number of artists, like Loudon Wainwright III, and has inspired countless more.

Last Forever, a previous release of Connette's, gathered together four albums worth of American folk and other traditions to present a collection of material that captured the hearts and minds of genre aficionados.  Now, the New York songwriter returns with a new project - Too Sad For The Public, the first installment of which is called  Vol. 1 - Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade 

The new collection combines two covers (Carole King and Van Morrison), six originals, and tributes to Jaco Pastorius and go-go superstar Chuck Brown. The ensemble of 17 musicians includes Rayna Gellert, Chaim Tannenbaum, Erik Friedlander, Steve Elson, and Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner.

With a wide-reaching spectrum of influences, Connette is an artist who has spent his years quietly becoming a point of reference in what it means to focus on the material, and let the music shine. ARTISTdirect caught up with Dick to ask about his musical memories, here's what he said...

Utne Reader Premieres Chaim Tannenbaum Video for America The Beautiful

In the immediate wake of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, among other controversial policy moves, many Americans are struggling to come to terms with what it is that their country stands for. Musician Chaim Tannenbaum has responded to the rise of Trump with an encouraging reminder of the professed values upon which the United States of America was founded. Three days after the election Tannenbaum unveiled his version of “America the Beautiful,” which includes all of the original verses, to a captivated crowd in London. The reaction to his performance was so positive that Tannenbaum decided to record the song in the studio.

Speaking of his reasoning behind playing the song, Chaim explains, "In a former time, America was the hope of mankind. It promised no less than that life would be led freely and justly. For the sake of principles that would make such life manifest and durable, free men and women wearied themselves, took on lavish risk and suffered lavish injury. We had an idea, I, C.J. Camerieri (trumpet, french horn) and Marcus Rojas (euphonium, tuba), that by calling to mind that former time, we might give courage to ourselves and to others who might wish to recover its spirit and mandate.”

For the music video (below), Chaim collaborated with Robin Forte-Lincke to create “a video featuring images that portray what America has been, and, he hopes, could still be.”

Click HERE to read the full piece and watch the video

Song Premiere on WNYC Soundcheck

Soundcheck Weekly Music Roundup - Too Sad For The Public – New Project Remakes Old Songs

For many years, the producer, composer, and arranger Dick Connette has been creating music built on a wide variety of American traditions, from Cajun to blues to children’s rhymes. Working with the singer Sonya Cohen – daughter of John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers and niece of Pete Seeger – he released several albums of these songs under the name Last Forever. But Sonya passed away at age 50 in 2015. Since then, Connette has been working with a varied group of singers and musicians (including Suzzy RocheGabriel Kahane and others) on a project called Too Sad For The Public. The first album, called Vol. 1, Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade, is out on June 16. Here, he casts an even wider musical net; many of the songs are still based on traditional music, but one is built on the sounds of Washington DC Go Go music (more on that next week). This track, called “Young Loves To Love,” will immediately be familiar to fans of Van Morrison. With lead vocals by Ana Egge, it’s a medley of Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Sweet Thing,” featuring Jay Berliner on guitar (who played on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album). More than a cover, though, it’s a typically personal take on these familiar songs, making them into something new and strange. 

Too Sad For The Public will spread the joy in a live setting this Friday, June 2, at Roulette in Brooklyn.

Click here to read the full piece and listen to the song

Dick Connette To Perform At Brooklyn's Roulette On June 2nd

Song Out! Folk 'N' Pop Fantasies Concert.  Curated By Avant-Garde Music Pioneer Meredith Monk

Appearing at Roulette, one night only, Friday, June 2 @ 8 pm, Rachelle Garniez, Dick Connette, and Mimi Goese will perform new songs, together with Karen Waltuch (viola), Steve Elson (reeds), Kevin Kuhn (guitar, banjo), and Derek Nievergelt (double bass), and featuring guest vocals by Ana Egge and Suzzy Roche.

Garniez will be presenting a set of her own songs, putting her particular spin on jazz, soul, and r ‘n’ b, with a band especially assembled for the occasion.

Connette and Goese will premiere a group of songs with text by Emily Dickinson. In addition, Connette, assisted by Ana Egge and Suzzy Roche, will present repertoire from both Last Forever and his latest project, Too Sad for the Public, whose first CD, Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade will be released on StorySound Records June 16.

Roulette is located at 509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn. For more information, tickets, go to roulette.org or call (917) 267-0363

New Release: Chaim Tannenbaum Sings America The Beautiful

It was at his show at the Proud Camden in London, only three days after one of the most shocking elections in US history that Chaim Tannenbaum decided to unveil his version of America The Beautiful. Still reeling from the election results, the audience was left overwhelmed simply by the pure emotion and sincerity Tannenbaum expressed behind every word. The performance stood as an encouraging reminder that now more than ever must the core values and spirit America was founded on not be forgotten. The couplets at the end of the last two verses below instilled the powerful and relevant message into the minds of the audience.

America, America,
God shed his grace on thee 
Till selfish gain no longer stain 
The banner of the free.

and

America, America. 
God shed his grace on thee 
Till nobler men keep once again 
Thy shining jubilee.

A few weeks after the Proud Camden show, in a New Jersey concert with Loudon Wainwright III, Chaim again sang America the Beautiful. Wainwright was so moved by the performance that he encouraged him to record it. So Chaim, together with producer/StorySound label head Dick Connette, immediately went to work to record and release a studio version.

As Chaim explains the reasoning behind his performance and recording of the song, "In a former time, America was the hope of mankind. We had an idea, I, C.J. Camerieri (trumpet, french horn) and Marcus Rojas (euphonium, tuba), that by calling to mind that former time, we might give courage to ourselves and to others who might wish to recover its spirit and mandate."

Loudon Wainwright III "Surviving Twin" Comes To London

Loudon Wainwright III performs his stage show "Surviving Twin" for the first time in the UK at London's Leicester Theatre March 9 - 12.

“Surviving Twin” is a posthumous collaboration in which connects some of his best songs with the writing of his late father Loudon Wainwright Jr, the esteemed LIFE Magazine columnist. The performance is a game of creative catch between son and father, exploring issues like birth, loss, parenthood, fashion, pet ownership, and mortality. “Surviving Twin” has never been previously performed in the UK.

“The sardonically humorous singer-songwriter delivers a moving meditation on father/son relationships.”  The Hollywood Reporter

“…a bristling, acerbic, ultimately affecting family album of a show, with father-son resentments, hostilities and resemblances laid out for all to see, alongside the love and self-loathing.”  New York Times

Purchase Tickets

Loudon Wainwright III song "I Had A Dream" included in Rolling Stone's 13 Great Anti-Trump Protest Songs

Dozens of artists have responded to Trump's rise with new or reworked songs of defiance. HERE are some of the most powerful. 

 

No Depression Review

Rayna Gellert's Hard Work Pays Off
by Rachel Cholst

January 27, 2017

Rayna Gellert's Workin's Too Hard is a little long to be an EP and shorter than an album, but it says a lot more than most. Gellert is perhaps best known for her work in the roots band Uncle Earl. I don't know too much about this corner of Americana, though, and the seven songs on Workin's Too Hard is enough keep Gellert on my radar.

The album was recorded in a single room with, according to the photo on the inside jacket, with the musicians just inches from each other. This intimacy can be felt throughout the songs. While most of them are slow-paced, the uptempo "I'm Bound for the Promised Land" allows the band to let loose a bunch of energy. However, it's in the first six tracks that they truly spread out and shine. From the get-go with "Workin's Too Hard," Gellert's all-too-human narrators fill us with empathy and warmth, even as we immerse ourselves in their pain. These songs feel timeless but are truly distinctive. It's a beautiful compilation and I'm excited to go deeper into Gellert's catalog.

Speaking of the jacket, if you're into this kind of thing, the design on the physical album is beautiful. From the understated style of the jacket to the dirty fingerprints on the CD itself, the same amount of care and craftsmanship that went into the music can be found in the album. The whole project is intimate, earthy, and human -- things we all need in the coming years.

To see the full review and listen to the track Workin's Too Hard go to: No Depression

Bluegrass Situation Premieres "Grey Bird"

Listen to the track "Grey Bird" from Rayna Gellert's new album Workin's Too Hard.

"We thought the album was done and dusted, ready to master, and then 'Grey Bird' came flying in. Kieran and I, in the instant inspired, finished it sitting in the studio, and then we all chased down the arrangement together. Working with such versatile musicians makes it hard to narrow down the options. But as soon as I heard the octave-mando-and-electric-guitar combination, I knew we'd captured it." -- Rayna Gellert

THE BLUEGRASS SITUATION: The home of everything bluegrass, folk, and Americana

Chaim Tannenbaum Makes MOJO Best Folk Albums 2016 List

Congratulations to Chaim and producer Dick Connette!

Rayna Gellert to Release New Album and Tour UK In January

On Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds, old-time fiddler Rayna Gellert first established herself as a songwriter and vocalist. Workin’s Too Hard (available January 27), her new collection of original and traditional songs, carries that promise forward, along a tradition now of her own devising, and demonstrates how deep immersion in our musical past can point the way toward the future of American music. She developed the album in collaboration with co-producer Kieran Kane, multi-instrumentalist Kai Welch (Abigail Washburn, Bobby Bare Jr.), and drummer Jamie Dick (Rhiannon Giddens, Joan Shelley). Recorded old school live in one room by Grammy-winning engineer Charles Yingling (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard), the sound of Workin’s Too Hard is as warm, intimate, and deep as the songs themselves.

Workin's Too Hard - UK Tour 2017

Fri 20th Jan - Whitstable Sessions, Whitstable, Kent
Sun 22nd Jan - Victoria Hotel, Menai Bridge, Wales
Wed 25th Jan- Manorbier, Pembrokeshires, Wales 
Thurs 26th Jan - Green Note, London    
Sat 28th Jan - Square & Compass, Worth Matravers, Dorset 
Wed 1st Feb - Strule Arts Centre Omagh  
Thurs 2nd Feb - Council Chamber Hall Bangor   
Fri 3rd Feb - Market Place Theatre Armagh  
Sat 4th Feb - Roe Valley Arts Centre Limavady  
Sun 5th Feb - Black Box Belfast    

Review of Loudon Wainwright III London Palladium Concert

Loudon Wainwright III, London Palladium
The singer-songwriter joyfully hymns five generations of his family (and trashes Trump)
by Jasper Rees

Loudon Wainwright III, a going concern as a singer-songwriter since the start of the Seventies, has long since been occluded by the commercial success of his brood, Martha and Rufus. Their old man is still enough of a draw to pack out the Palladium with just a guitar, a banjo and a back catalogue of cranky songs only he could have composed.

For subject matter Wainwright has tended to commute, he cheerfully conceded, along a well-trodden path between “shitty relationships” and “death and decay”. There was a bit of both here – a compulsory outing for “Unhappy Anniversary” and his medical comedy song “The Doctor”. Both themes mordantly combined in “The Morgue” from his most recent release Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). The song gleefully pictures the deceased on the slab, slain by “a guilty conscience and a broken heart”. How we laughed.

But most of this set was a loving and epic paean to family spanning five generations from grandparents to grandchildren. In winks and glances, it even told the story of the North American century. In “Half Fist”, reflecting on the grandfather he never met, Wainwright rhymed “Loudon” with “World War One” and “shotgun”. There was a lovely story about the tour of Alaska recently undertaken by a bunch of Wainwrights, segueing into “The Wainwright Family Adventure” in which Rufus’s switch in sexual preference was scrunched into a couplet: “once was a tit man/Now checks pecs out at the gym”. “What family isn’t insane?” crooned the clan patriarch in “All in the Family”, reflecting on parental failures.

The figure who loomed over the evening was Wainwright’s father, who in his time was an eminence at Life magazine. His fame was “kind of a drag”, grumbled his son, whose patricidal instincts have mutated into fond respect for a master craftsman. Three times the singing stopped as Loudon Wainwright III allowed Loudon Wainwright Jr to step forward and speak again through him via long stretches of his Life column “The View from Here”. The first was about birth – the singer’s own in hospital on the same night as a much older expectant father heard that his own first child was stillborn. The last was an immensely touching paean to the family pooch. 

With his face an ever-changing canvas of writhing grimaces and wacko tongue wags, Wainwright’s instinct is to make his audience chortle like coyotes. “Election Song” was a typically surreal assault on Donald Trump, who in a nightmare vision makes “My Ding-a-Ling” the national anthem and carpet-bombs Montreal (where Wainwright’s kids were brought up by their mother Kate McGarrigle). But he can also conjure up melancholy without his old man’s help. “I’m Back in Your Town” opened the set and established an undertow of sorrow beneath the jaunty veneer. There was a lovely elegy to an old Carolina troubadour in “Charlie’s Last Song” and a thoughtful memorial to Hank Williams in “Hank and Fred”.

As for the music, Wainwright made light of his touch. “Don’t know what I’m worried about,” he said as he tuned his guitar. “You can’t tell.” His Grammy for best traditional record he modestly dismissed as “category 57 behind best poker record”. But he picked and strummed folk tunes of bracing originality, mingling blues swoops and country licks and, when his hilarious long-term sidekick Chaim Tennenbaum sauntered on, sprinkles of bluegrass banjo plus gorgeous close harmonies.

This was a lovely memoir in song and spoken word. In his dotage, is the old man growing sentimental? “We’re too old to die young,” he said, “but we can dream, can’t we?” May he dream on and on.

Chaim Tannenbaum To Play London In November

At the conclusion of his UK tour opening for Loudon Wainwright III, Chaim Tannenbaum will play a solo show Friday, November 11 at Proud Camden in London.  The show presented by The Nest Collective will feature Chaim performing songs from his selt-titled debut album with special guests Kate St. John, Neill MacColl and Dick Connette. 

Purchase tickets HERE

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