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LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III 'High Wide & Handsome-The Charlie Poole Project'

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We have very mixed feelings about this new 2-CD offering, which is sub-titled "The Charlie Poole Project". On the one hand, it is beautifully packaged, with really nice graphics and an extensive multi-page booklet that includes words, pictures, and period sheet music covers. It is obvious that a lot of time and thought went into this production. On the other hand, Charlie Poole was such a distinctive and engaging artist, and was so much a product of and reflection of his time, that to try to duplicate or add to his work today seems pointless. There are 30 songs here, about 2/3 of them Wainwright versions of songs that Poole recorded between 1925 and 1931 --most of these covers here hold little interest after one has heard the Poole originals. The remaining 9 or 10 songs are written by Wainwright and/or producer Dick Connette and are peculiar "would be" Poole songs with titles like OLD BALLYHOO, WAY UP IN NEW YORK CITY, and NO KNEES. At their best they seem innocuous and out of place, and at their worst may make most old-time fans cringe. Granted that there would be no point to slavishly copy the fiddle-banjo-guitar arrangements that Poole & his band did so well, but Connette's arrangements --some with trumpet, trombone, piano, and/or drums --seem very reminiscent of most major label's past attempts to "spruce up" or somehow "improve" on the originals (and when you're doing this to the music of a Charlie Poole or a Jimmie Rodgers, brother, you'd better be on the money!). It is very possible other listeners will have a different take on this project, and hopefully it may lead some newcomers to Charlie Poole's original records. And, to end on a positive note, it has made us go straight to the superb Columbia box set on Poole for another listen to all the great music Charlie recorded. MONKEY ON A STRING, here we come! 2-CD set: $ 18.00 (Note: The Poole box set on SONY is still available: CK-92780, $ 35.00, and so are 3 separate CDs of Poole on the COUNTY label @ 13.99 each).