By Amy Longsdorf
Country music pioneer Charlie Poole might have died in 1931 at the age of 39, but Loudon Wainwright III’s self-proclaimed “sonic bio-pic” of the troubadour is anything but tragic. Blending original songs about Poole with covers of his most famous numbers (“Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues,” “If I Lose, I Don’t Care,” “Take a Drink on Me”), Wainwright has come up with a two-CD, 30-track set that mines a rich seam of roots magic.
For most of “High Wide & Handsome,” Wainwright opts to perform in the stripped-down style of hootenannies and parlor room sing-a-longs. On the title track, for instance, the singer relies strictly on a banjo and his own clever wordplay to put across Poole’s fun-loving, hard-living personality. “High wide and handsome/You can’t take it with you,” sings Wainwright. “High wide and handsome/That’s one way to go/Let’s live it up/Might as well we’re all dyin’/High wide and handsome/Let’s put on a show.”
While most of the CD is a bare-bones affair, Wainwright wisely invites a handful of his family members to add their voices to the project. Daughter and son Martha and Rufus Wainwright accompany their father on the bittersweet “Old and Only in the Way,” while Loudon’s ex-wife Suzzy Roche and her sister Maggie lend their harmonies to a track or two, with Maggie taking the lead on the haunting “Man in the Moon.” Sung from the standpoint of Poole’s aggrieved first wife, this deceptively simple mountain rag could melt the stoniest heart. (2nd Story Sound Records)
Release Date: 8/18/09
Official Site: www.thecharliepooleproject.com
Photos courtesy Shore Fire Media.
[Amy Longsdorf’s entertainment coverage has appeared in Blender, People, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Star and Newsday. She doesn’t want to imagine a world without Preston Sturges movies, Stax singles and the music of Bob Marley.]