Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project [161, 2009]
Young folkies are attracted to their chosen past because it seems so raw. But though young folkie Wainwright twigged to this totemic mountaineer via the line "The beefsteak it was rare and the butter had red hair," now he's old enough to cook him. Poole didn't write that line or anything else he sang--he'd perform Paul Dresser's musty "The Letter That Never Came" as soon as W.C. Handy's hightailing "Ramblin' Blues" if he thought it was good for a drink. And in Wainwright's plentifully illustrated and annotated two-CD tribute, where nine of the 29 selections are new songs by Wainwright and/or producer Dick Connette, Poole stands as a touchstone of a bygone era. Wainwright is such a card that you don't think of him as a singer, but he puts more throat and thorax into the sentimental ballads than Poole had in him, and his barn burners are louder and faster without approaching Poole's rooted assurance or reckless abandon. These conscious misprisions are fine by me. In fact, I'm more likely to play the canny reconstruction than the certified original. I'm older than Poole ever was. A