One of the underlying themes of the crowdfunded Veronica Mars film is that you can’t change who you are no matter how far away you try to get from your former life. A bit of dour outlook on the world, but I was reminded of it while listening to Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet), the 23rd album from Loudon Wainwright III. Like most folk artists, the temper of the musical times has not affected his work in the slightest over the past 40-plus years since he arrived on the scene. His lyrical outlook is as arch and rueful as ever, and the music surrounding it dips into his familiar world of ‘20s-style hot jazz, solo acoustic quietude and country-blues shuffle.
The only thing that has shifted a little bit is the subject of his charming, heartfelt tunes. He’s still coming to terms with getting older in ways both humorous (“Brand New Dance”) and poignant (“Last Day”) and has deep social ills like homelessness (“In A Hurry”) and mental disorders (“Depression Blues”) on his mind. But he’s also happy to write a throwaway little number about trying to find a place to park one’s car (“Spaced”) and dealing with dog crap (“Man And Dog”).
That’s the beauty and frustration that comes with being a fan of Loudon, though. You kind of know what to expect from him at this point. Outside of beautiful curveballs like his reflective 2001 album Last Man On Earth, you’re going to get your “Dead Skunk”s alongside your unpolished gems like “New Paint.” And for most folks that’s going to be perfectly fine. Loudon Wainwright fans are fans for life and are going to be completely satisfied with what he has to offer here.
For the rest of the world, the album is just another notch in the man’s long discography that you can cherry-pick some favorite moments from and compost the rest. The good news is that the ratio of essential to throwaway songs still leans heavily towards the former. And for someone who’s been at it as long as Loudon has, that alone is worthy of our respect.