Loudon Wainwright III tackles Charlie Poole

Loudon Wainwright III - High Wide & HandsomeCharlie Poole and Loudon Wainwright III are two names you might not expect to find in close proximity. In fact, unless you were a follower of pop music in the 1970s or a serious student of old time string music from the 1920s, you may not even recognize them. If you do know their music, however, the pairing makes perfect sense.

Both men came to the public’s attention quite suddenly with a hit recording. Poole only lived another six years after his debut in 1925, and Wainwright never regained the spotlight after his 1973 hit, Dead Skunk. Both men’s music has a vein of cynicism, often directed inward, and both showed a knack for humorous, clever, yet insightful songs.

Wainwright has taken Charlie Poole on for his next project, a 2 CD set to be followed by a documentary film called High, Wide & Handsome – The Charlie Poole Project. The songs mix many of Poole’s songs with traditional favorites he recorded, and a number of Wainwright originals that either tell of Poole’s life, or are imaginings of his life and times.

The sound is a mish mash of styles that works well with Wainwright’s creaky tenor voice, and the occasionally oddball Charlie Poole repertoire. There are four audio samples available on the High Wide & Handsome web site, including a rousing version of Don’t let Your Deal Go Down with Chris Thile on mandolin, if you want a taste.

The CD was produced by Dick Connette and the film directed by Michael Grenadier. The 2 disc set also includes detailed liner notes on Charlie Poole by Poole historian Kinney Rorrer.

In another interesting coincidence, Poole’s early success is often credited as providing the impetus for record companies to seek out old time country musicians from the Appalachian region in the 1930s, leading to the emergence of artists like Jimmy Rodgers and The Carter Family. In turn, the success of historical music projects like T-Bone Burnett’s soundtrack for Oh Brother, Where Art Thou may have been an inspiration for this album.

Here is the trailer, which serves as a fine introduction to the two projects.

Look for High, Wide & Handsome – The Charlie Poole Project on August 25 from 2nd Story Sound Records.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.