Loudon Wainwright III – So Damn Happy
Ten minutes into this live album, a voice rises from the audience to make a tentative request: “‘Cobwebs?'” “‘Cobwebs?!'” Wainwright hollers back in mock horror. “That’s impossible!” And then he goes ahead and plays it anyway, even though he can’t remember all the words. But he gets through it with some creative mumbling, finally concluding, “Well, that’s a piece of it, Alice.”
If time hasn’t exactly mellowed Wainwright, it has made him more generous. He can still get right cranky (see the ode to file-sharing, “Something For Nothing”), and he still throws out plenty of punchlines to go with the angst. But he exudes a reconciliation that you might not have thought he had in him, back in his brief “Dead Skunk” pop-star period 30 years ago.
Recorded in early 2002, So Damn Happy makes a nice bookend to Wainwright’s 1993 live retrospective, Career Moves. This one concentrates on songs from the 1990s and beyond, with choice backing from Richard Thompson, Van Dyke Parks and David Mansfield.
Along with laughs, So Damn Happy offers up some heartbreak. “The Home Stretch” presents Wainwright at his bitterest (“At least you’ve been a has-been and not just a never-was”), and “A Year” tries to explain his puzzling decision to stay away from a new daughter during the first year of her life. Then he segues right into a very funny duet with his daughter Martha on “You Never Phone”.
Not just a singer, an actor or a comedian, Wainwright is a master of mood swing.