Loudon Wainwright III: “High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project”

Loudon Wainwright’s High Wide & Handsome is billed as The Charlie Poole Project — not, you will notice, The Charlie Poole Album. And that’s fitting. Weighing in at two discs and containing a thick booklet complete with historical notes and biographical date, even an essay by Americana guru Greil Marcus, the album is something much more than a typical tribute album. But its sheer girth and lavish extras aren’t what set it apart: What truly amazes is that this isn’t just a set that cherry-picks the best or more famous songs associated with Poole, but it actually makes a respectable effort at representing the artist in his full, multi-faceted entirety.

That means something different when we’re talking about Charlie Poole than it would, say, Wainwright himself, or any other singer/songwriter from the past sixty years. Poole’s era was a different one indeed: A string-band minstrel who rose to prominence in the 1920s, Poole was a working musician at a time when being a working musician didn’t mean selling albums or packing stadiums. Instead, it meant traveling from one regional dancehall or honky tonk to the next and giving the people what they want. A musician like Poole may have been gifted at writing songs in a country-blues or folk vein, but if he wanted to eat he had to be all things to all people, which meant making music people could dance to — and making sure everyone in town was going to like what he played.

Read the rest at Stereo Subversion.

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