Loudon Wainwright III
Last Man on Earth
Red House Records CD RHR 158, 2001
Loudon gets real
Dan Macintosh, 4 November 2001
Loudon Wainwright's mother passed away in 1997, and this pivotal personal event informs much of the material on his latest recording. He's always been a troubadour at war with his inner demons, but this set of musings - about a very real enemy, loss - has given extra fuel to his passion and makes for both a troubling and rewarding listening experience.
Wainwright reminds us more than once that he's now 53 years old. With his mother's passing, he's also parentless. Although his mom gets the most of the lyrical press, so to speak, "Surviving Twin" speaks instead of his dad, and how Wainwright must come to grips with how much he is like his old man. It's a shock for Wainwright to learn that he has more in common with his father than just his newly sprouted gray beard.
Loneliness, more than anything else, is what occupies Wainwrights' thoughts these days. "Living Alone" details the stark lifestyle of one who shares his living space with no other living soul, while the title cut reveals how Loudon oftentimes feels isolated from the rest of the planet since he does not "pack a cell phone," or "drive an SUV" like most everybody else.
A Wainwright album can be a downer, to say the least, but much like Leonard Cohen, moments of humor are what keep his recordings worth staying the course. The sprightly "I'm Not Gonna Cry" makes a serious statement about the affects of mourning, but it is also aided by lively banjo and finds Wainwright dropping lines like: "Even if some milk is spilt/I won't dilute my beer." Elsewhere in the same song he alludes to an oldies radio staple about the emptying of tear ducts by singing "I must have cried a million tears/At least ninety-six."
Wainwright once again reveals his knowledge of pop music culture when he name-drops the Pre-Fab Four in "Last Man on Earth."
I'm the last man standing
Save the last dance for me
I've taken the last train to Clarksville
I'm the fifth Monkee
He may kid about the animal in him, but make no mistake about it, Loudon Wainwright III is all human. If he does end up becoming the last man on earth, as he sourly predicts, he really wouldn't be a bad example of just what it means to be a human being.
performers Loudon Wainwright III, banjo, guitar, vocals; Stewart Lerman, organ, bass, guitar, percussion, Wurlitzer; David Mansfield, dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, percussion, viola; Sammy Merendino, percussion, drums; Suzzy Roche, vocals; Mary Rowell, violin, viola; Steuart Smith, organ, guitars, bass, harmonica, piano, accordion Wurlitzer; Brian Stanley, bass; Dick Connette, percussion, piano, arranger, celeste, harmonium, spinet; Dorothy Lawson, cello; Johnny Gale, vocals; Marshall P. Coid, violin
production Stewart Lerman, producer and engineer;
Scott Lehrer, engineer
songs Missing You · Living Alone · White Winos · Fresh Fossils · I'm Not Gonna Cry · Out of Reach · Bridge · Surviving Twin · Donations · Graveyard · Bed · Last Man on Earth · Homeless