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Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

Loudon Wainwright III

High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story Sound Records)

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Weeks before drinking himself to death at age 39 in 1931, North Carolina millworker-turned-banjo-picker Charlie Poole recorded “Milwaukee Blues,” a song that has nearly nothing to do with Milwaukee. It was modestly successful, an achievement given that the Great Depression was two years under way.

Poole’s music, with its engaging rhythms and alternately earthy and fanciful lyrics, largely slipped into obscurity. Loudon Wainwright III’s revival of the country musician’s work in the two-disc High Wide and Handsome is delightful, capturing Poole’s musical spirit with rich detail and authority. Wainwright’s free-range enthusiasm brings an unexpected freshness to the project. Aided by children Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile, The Roches and folkie Geoff Muldaur, Hide Wide andHandsome is a legacy project as enjoyable as it is historically significant. (However, if you want “Milwaukee Blues,” you’ll have to download it from www.thecharliepooleproject.com.)


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