Loudon Wainwright - So Damn Happy

Loudon Wainwright III
So Damn Happy


The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2003

First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10

Written by John Metzger


"The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it
does attempt to represent life."

— Henry James

Loudon Wainwright III has a gift for making people laugh out loud even as he breaks their hearts. It’s a strange juxtaposition of emotions, one that is incredibly difficult to achieve on a single song, let alone throughout 20 albums strung along a 33-year career. As consistently strong as Wainwright’s recorded output has been, however, his concerts are even better. It’s no wonder he has had a second career as an actor, given how well he parlays his poetic musings into emotionally turbulent performances, leaving the audience hanging upon his every word.

On So Damn Happy, his third concert recording, Wainwright is supported intermittently by the instrumental brilliance of Van Dyke Parks, guitarist Richard Thompson, and multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield. Even without Parks’ ambient accompaniment on Dreaming, Thompson’s disquieting lead on The Home Stretch, or Mansfield’s playful fiddle on Heaven, however, So Damn Happy would be a successful endeavor. The reason is simple: Wainwright is a genius who uses his own personal experiences to connect with his audience on familiar ground.

Though taken from two separate shows in January 2002, So Damn Happy folds together to form a masterfully cohesive set. By linking five new songs with 12 older selections, Wainwright takes his audience on an introspective journey into the nature of human relationships. Even on less personal tunes, such as Tonya’s Twirls and Something for Nothing, he wrings truth out of his observations on the state of the world in ways that strike close to home. Still, it’s his more familial offerings that hit the hardest. Heartache hangs in the gentle jazz-folk air of Much Better Bets, and sarcasm drips from the title track. Westchester County is a fond recollection of his own childhood, while The Picture is a wistful reflection on the passage of time as well as the death of his father. On the melancholic A Year, he shares his own parental fears, tendering an apology of sorts for missing his newborn child’s first annum, and he follows this with the astringent You Never Phone, sung as a duet with his daughter Martha.

For all the sadness, all the sorrow, all the pain, suffering, and regret that fills Wainwright’s songs, beneath it all are also some cherished memories and a wicked sense of humor. Through his words and music, he shows us a reflection of life itself, and this is the very definition of what we call art. starstarstarstar

So Damn Happy is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box