LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III – I’d Rather Lead A Band (Thirty Tigers)

I'd Rather Lead A BandI admit that it’s been quite a few years – decades, perhaps – since I listened to Loudon Wainwright III, but I suspect that even if I’d been more au fait with his 21st century output, the album I’d Rather Lead A Band, scheduled for release on October 9th 2020, would come as a surprise. Instead of his own songs, he’s chosen to interpret a set of songs from the 1920s/30s, and instead of using his own guitar for accompaniment, he has collaborated as singer and bandleader with Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks and producer/music supervisor Randall Poster. The instrumentation has a decidedly period feel with an emphasis on brass and reeds, but keeps its promise of presenting a “loose, fresh, anti-nostalgic take” on the Great American Songbook that feels a million miles from Rod Stewart or Ella Fitzgerald, or even Harry Nilsson.

  1. ‘How I Love You (I’m Tellin’ the Birds, Tellin’ the Bees)’ is a 20s-ish song by Lew Brown and Cliff Friend. I was slightly reminded of the Temperance Seven instrumentally, but Wainwright’s vocals avoid self-conscious pastiche.
  2. ‘Ship Without A Sail’ is a Rogers and Hart song from the 1929 musical Heads Up! – Wainwright sounds a little strained on the high notes, but it’s a nice song and an affecting performance.
  3. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ (Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, Harry Brooks) does justice to a classic song. And it’s really rather nice to hear sings of this vintage where the whole song is sung, rather than the singer going straight into the verse.
  4. There’s something about the innuendo-rich ‘I’m Going To Give It To Mary With Love’ that would fit straight into a classic Loudon Wainwright III set. However, it was written by Cliff Edwards and first recorded in the 1930s.
  5. ‘The Little Things in Life’ is an Irving Berlin song recorded by Bing Crosby in the 1930s. Not one of my favourite songs, but a solid performance.
  6. ‘So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together’ was also recorded by Crosby with Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys – written, I think, by fellow Rhythm Boy Harry Barris. Not my favourite song either, but an attractive arrangement.
  7. ‘A Perfect Day’ is not, of course, the Lou Reed song you couldn’t get away from in 1997 because of the charity single, but a ‘parlour song’ written by Carrie Jacobs-Bond in 1909, and a pleasant example of the sort of thing a musical household might have sung around the piano. Though the first half line does remind me resistibly of ‘When You Come To The End Of A Lollipop’: fortunately, most of you probably aren’t old enough to remember that particular earworm.
  8. ‘I Thought About You’, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer, has been recorded by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, among others, and that’s tough competition. Still, Wainwright takes it at a suitably swinging pace and doesn’t disgrace himself vocally. Until I heard his version of ‘You Rascal You’ this was my favourite track. Sadly, he doesn’t sing the first few lines on this one, but then nor did Sinatra.
  9. ‘I’d Rather Lead A Band’ is another song by Irving Berlin, probably most associated with Fred Astaire. This version compares very well.
  10. ‘My Blue Heaven’ was written by Walter Donaldson and George Whiting, and was used in the Ziegfield Follies of 1927. This version has more of a 50s feel, and for me, at any rate, all the better for it.
  11. Early versions of Harold Arlen’s ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ (lyrics by Ted Koehler) include Cab Calloway’s and Louis Armstrong’s, and this version swings appropriately.
  12. I can’t now hear ‘Heart and Soul’, by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, without thinking of Niles and Daphne in Frasier chopping vegetables, but this is a perfectly sound version.
  13. Sam Theard’s ‘You Rascal You (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead)’ has been recorded by a glorious miscellany of jazz and blues singers, but it really suits Wainright’s voice and delivery. On reflection, this is my favourite track.
  14. Frank Loesser’s ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ comes from Guys And Dolls: it’s sentimental but not mawkish, and Wainwright’s straightforward delivery makes for a satisfying end to the set.

Until this CD came through my letterbox, I hadn’t really thought about Loudon Wainwright III as a singer: I suppose his vocal chops have always been overshadowed by his extraordinary songwriting. But I’m pleasantly surprised: he may not be a Sinatra or Bennett, but if he’d been singing material like this years ago he could certainly have made it as a band singer. And especially with a band of this quality. While there are moments early on where the arrangements are a tiny bit too 20s-oompah for my taste, most of the arrangements have more of a big band vibe, which is fine by me. As long as you aren’t expecting material like ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Cry’ or ‘Delaware When I Was Younger’ (I told you I hadn’t listened to him for a while!) or even the dead skunk thing, I think you might be pleasantly surprised too. It’s certainly not folk, if that matters to you, but I won’t stop listening to I’d Rather Lead A Band just because I’ve finished the review.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.lw3.com/

‘Ship Without A Sail’:


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