Loudon Wainwright III finds himself recasting the spare voice and guitar arrangements of songs from his first few albums amidst a more fleshed out band setting in his new album Recovery. After a random purchase at the St. Vincent de Paul record sale last week, I discovered that this concept had been undertaken years before -- in 1972, when the songs were new -- on the obscure final album by The Brooklyn Bridge.
The distinctive voice of Johnny Maestro was one of those from the vocal group era to successfully make the transition into the post-Beatles era. As a member of The Crests, he was on the pop charts repeatedly and has remained a staple of oldies radio due to the near-standard "Sixteen Candles." He resurfaced in the late '60s with The Brooklyn Bridge and their hit version of "The Worst That Could Happen." That band had a few more hits and has since remained active on an off-and-on basis.
The Bridge in Blue, released as by the Bridge, was the group's last album during its original run. Along with a couple other covers and one long band original, it showcased five songs by Wainwright, given the full-on large band arrangements that were the group's hallmark. While this does tend to take away some of the bite of Wainwright's original versions -- there's no way to escape his dark wit when the only thing covering his fire is a guitar -- the songs are strong enough to not get lost in the band's new frameworks.
What makes the album's choice to highlight Wainwright somewhat more interesting is that it appears to have been released before his left-field hit "Dead Skunk," since all the songs are from his first two albums for Atlantic. So, the Bridge gets bonus points for excellent taste if for no other reason.
Wainwright has created an amazingly consistent body of work over the past four decades, and it's heartening to see him getting quite a bit more mainstream attention than usual lately, at least partially due to his work on the Knocked Up soundtrack. He'll likely be playing songs old and new in a concert at the Majestic Theatre on Sunday, November 16. Anyone bringing more attention to the songs of Loudon Wainwright III is ok in my book. (Buddah, 1972; available on CD as part of The Brooklyn Bridge set For Collectors Only released by Collectibles.)