Album Review: Loudon Wainwright III, ‘I’d Rather Lead a Band’

by Henry Carrigan (@henry.carrigan), Folk Alley

Folk Alley Album Review Loudon Wainwright III I'd Rather Lead A Band

Loudon Wainwright III was born to make this record. His ebullient personality bounces through every song on I'd Rather Lead a Band, and his scampering vocals chase the band’s rhythms across the dance floor. On the title track—penned by Irving Berlin—Wainwright and Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks capture all the frenetic enthusiasm of the Fred Astaire and Johnny Green and His Orchestra original. It’s not hard to imagine Wainwright strolling merrily across the floor to the swaying, rollicking rhythms of the band’s introduction before launching into a swinging, jumping vocal performance. Wainwright ably scats up and down the scales with his canny phrasing, as he calls out each instrument in the band for a brief solo. Every track rides along with the same passion and zest, whether it’s a waltzing number such as Hoagy Carmichaels’ “Heart and Soul” or a zany bopper like Sam Theard’s “You Rascal You (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead),” which Louis Armstrong and his orchestra performed in the Betty Boop cartoon I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.

The album kicks off in grand style with a dashing, scampering take on the Lew Brown and Cliff Friend standard “How I Love You (I’m Tellin’ the Birds, Tellin’ the Bees).” Toodling trumpets, punctuated by Giordano’s tuba, introduce the song before Wainwright’s spirited vocals blow into the tune with gale force, steering the rhythms far and wide, high and low with barely controlled abandon. Rudee Valley has nothing on Wainwright and his sparkling and animated vocals. Wainwright’s tender vocals float over breezy piano chords and lilting orchestral swells on the Rodgers and Hart classic “Ship without a Sail,” slowing it down for some cheek-to-cheek dancing, while his cheery vocals brighten Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Cliff Edwards’ “I’m Going to Give It to Mary with Love” could have easily been written with Wainwright in mind, with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and frantic jitterbugging tune. Wainwright embraces the grand sweep of the somber “A Perfect Day,” Carrie Jacob-Bonds’ hymn-like tribute to the glory of a sunset and the power of friendship.

Wainwright’s collaboration with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks is a match made in heaven. Wainwright grew up listening to many of these songs in his father’s—the Life magazine columnist Loudon Wainwright—record collection, and Grammy-winning bandleader Giordano and The Nighthawks have been playing these tunes on the New York City nightclub scene for over 30 years. There’s a chemistry here, and everyone—including the listeners—is having fun. We’re looking forward to the next album from them.

I'd Rather Lead a Band is available now at Amazon and Apple Music.

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