During the Great Depression, people flocked to the movies to see Busby Berkeley musicals. The chance to pay just a little bit of money to escape whatever hardship they were enduring was too irresistible, too powerful to resist. A kick line trumps a bread line any day.
With that in mind … since the past few months have been, um, stressful, it makes perfect sense that I keep returning to the ramshackle charm and comfort of I’d Rather Lead a Band, a collection of vintage Jazz Age (and beyond) songs by Loudon Wainwright III with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.
If it seems to you like every year brings around another Elder Statesman covering the Great American Songbook project, don’t worry. This isn’t a batch of stuffy period pieces; they feel current and lively, largely because Wainwright avoids a lot of obvious selections and digs for a few real gems. Even well-known songs like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” sound fresh and new; a lot of the lesser-known ones feel like real discoveries.
There’s one good old-fashioned genuine naughty novelty number (since my mother reads this, I blush to even type the title, so you’re on your own to discover which) but my heart belongs to the closing number, Wainwright’s version of Frank Loesser’s “More I Cannot Wish You,” lifted from Guys and Dolls. It’s the one that sounds the most like a traditional Wainwright tune, but it fits right in with the rest of the record’s period trappings (yes, I said “record”) and the wistful, almost “Auld Lang Syne” tone of it really gets me right in the feelers. You’ll have a different favorite, I’m sure, but they’re all worth loving.
During this strange, dark period when it feels like we can’t sing out loud or stomp around on a dance floor or even go anywhere, a record (I said it again!) that transports you to a 1920s-era Parisian jazz club—if only for an hour—seems like a gift from … uh, well, whoever gives such gifts. YOU’RE WELCOME!