As Loudon Wainwright III says in his song "In C," he likes to sing about "my favorite protagonist — me."
Over the years, Wainwright has written about being a husband, a father and a son; an adulterer, a lover, a first-class guilt-tripper, a defensive SOB who'll take the blame but not without getting his witty licks in first. On his early records, the songs were superb and self-centered. In recent years, they've been frequently just as superb, but more outwardly directed. Wainwright's songs about the death of his mother were a kind of breakthrough for him, and he continues that work here, but now about his father, Loudon Wainwright Jr., who died in 1988 at age 63. Now 65, the singer-songwriter uses this as a jumping-off point for his new collection.
Wainwright prefaces the title song from Older Than My Old Man Now by reading a passage from his father's writing about his own aging. His father was a writer and editor for Life Magazine, and extremely articulate about, no surprise I suppose, his fraught relationship with his father — Loudon's grandfather — and his difficult relationship with his own children, including our Loudon. The title track also carries a final sting, as Loudon sings, "Not only older than my old man ever was / but I'm guilty I've outlived my ex." His ex-wife, of course, is Kate McGarrigle, of the great team of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who died two years ago. Loudon performs here a song called "Over the Hill," which in the liner notes he says is the only song he ever wrote with Kate, in 1975. It is, with remarkable aptness, a song about aging.
But all is not ruefulness and woe, of course. There's a funny song about the multitude of medications that a sixtysomething man might have to take. There's a lovely song called "Double Lifetime," in which Wainwright trades verses with one of his folk heroes, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. And there's a perfectly ridiculous duet Wainwright performs with the comedian Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage, titled "I Remember Sex."
Older Than My Old Man Now is an uneven album, at times overproduced — oddly, the slickest and most forgettable song is the one overloaded with family: Called "The Here and the Now," it features all four of his children, Rufus, Martha, Lucy and Lexie, and as Wainwright puts it in the credits, "2 out of the 3 moms," Suzzy Roche and Ritamarie Kelly. But while Loudon Wainwright III may be a senior citizen, his witty self-pity, his ringing rancorousness, his apologies phrased as arguments, remain rigorous and sometimes gloriously obstinate. Or, as he puts it in one song here: "I'm not quite high on life, just slightly dead."
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.