Wainwright recovers old songs

Songwriter joins Leo Kottke in concert

Special to the Herald

Folk singer and songwriter Loudon Wainwright III will play Saturday at the Community Concert Hall along with guitarist Leo Kottke.
Writing songs “is just something I’ve been doing for 40 years,” the self-effacing folk singer Louden Wainwright III said by telephone from his California home this week. Wainwright will perform at the Community Concert Hall with Leo Kottke at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Songwriting, Wainwright added, is something he stumbled upon. He wrote his first song in 1968.

“People reacted to it, responded to it and paid me for it,” he said.

The son of a journalist, Wainwright didn’t want to be a writer. He thought he was going to be an actor. That is, until he became slightly better known for his songwriting and folk singing than his acting.

Although he still gets the occasional acting gig – many know him best as the singing surgeon from the long running television series “M*A*S*H” or more recently as Dr. Howard from the film “Knocked Up” – singing and songwriting have earned him comparisons to Bob Dylan.

“(But) I’m not cryptic or mysterious or complicated at all,” Wainwright is quoted as saying on his MySpace page.

Wainwright’s new album, “Recovery,” is an archeological dig through old material that was originally recorded as just a voice and a guitar. He went back as far as 1970 to the first track on his debut “School Days,” a slice of collegiate bravado written when he was 23.

At 25, he wrote “Motel Blues,” a song about a young singer inviting a girl up to his motel room. Today, Wainwright says he’s only interested in how the windows open in a motel room and how to get the Wi-Fi working.

Wainwright took the old songs and reconceived them, then re-corded them with his favorite band in Los Angeles, a group of fellows with whom he said he loves working.

“It’s sort of like we put meat on those old bones,” Wainwright said.

He didn’t update or alter the songs; he said he didn’t have to because, physically and vocally, Wainwright is a different singer than he was in his 20s.

“My voice has technically dropped, and it sounds like I’m a different person,” Wainwright said. “Perhaps it is wishful thinking that I am a better and more expressive singer now, but it’s my opinion, even if it doesn’t count.”

Titling his new album “Recovery” is somewhat of a play on words. Wainwright is recovering his own music, reclaiming his own songs.

“But more importantly, it also carries the connotation of getting better, which is something we’d all like to think we’re doing,” he said.

Wainwright plays Saturday with innovative guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke, who no longer grants interviews.

Kottke has recorded more than 30 albums and collaborated with many musicians throughout his career. Entertainment Weekly has called him a national treasure.

Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.

Contents copyright ©, the Durango Herald. All rights reserved.

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