Review

Wainwright may be best known to younger listeners as the father of Rufus and Martha, but he's no slouch in the songwriting department himself. Rufus undoubtedly gets some of his cynical humor and ironic attitude from his dad, who made a career out of sharply etched vignettes that often sound slight on first hearing, but reveal subtle levels of nuanced meaning on repeated listening. As the lyrics to 2001's Last Man on Earth and the instrumental tracks to 2007's Strange Weirdos proved, Wainwright's starting to show signs of maturity in his old age, and, in its own odd way, Recovery continues that trend. Produced by Joe Henry, his Strange Weirdos collaborator, Recovery revisits Wainwright's back catalog and finds new meaning in the tunes he wrote as a young man. Henry supplies the expected dark arrangements, while Wainwright delivers the old songs without the implied wink and smirk of his youth. "School Days," the first track on his first album, was a wise-assed ode to youthful excess, a backhanded compliment to his own genius. At 60, the lyrics still sting, but the tint of mortality he brings to the performance makes the song take on a whole new meaning, more poignant than celebratory. "Drinking Song" is a talking blues, here accented by spooky slide guitar and oddly accented percussion. Wainwright wails and wrings unexpected emotion from a lyric that was once played for laughs. "Be Careful There's a Baby in the House" sounds more chilling in the light of Wainwright's acknowledged failures as a parent. His cautionary tale of the tribulations of parenthood ring particularly true in hindsight. When he tells new parents: "if your 'I love you' is an I.O.U, don't expect to get a good deal" the words take on added weight. "Motel Blues" from Album II, an ode to sex with an underage groupie, now sounds more desperate than amusing. Its country arrangement fits the song's forlorn mood as it strips away the romance of life on the road. "Man Who Couldn't Cry" closes the album and still sounds trite and over the top with its litany of misfortunes and vaguely biblical references, one of the few tunes that hasn't improved with age. ~ j. poet, Rovi

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