Even when Loudon Wainwright III was writing songs in his early 20s, many of his characters were already looking back wistfully at their younger days -- such as the protagonist of his 1970 recording School Days," who begins his tale.
In Delaware when I was younger. They're songs written by a young man and originally recorded when he was a young man. But now, tragically, I'm not a young man anymore, and I am singing about getting old when I am old.
Loudon Wainwright III
This is more than an abstract issue for Wainwright. Earlier this year he got together with a band and made new recordings of 13 of his early songs. The resulting album, Recovery, is a creative reinvention that forced him to negotiate the shifting emotional nuances wrought by the years.
As it happens, Wainwright isn't alone in this process. Two of his contemporaries, veteran Los Angeles rock band Little Feat and Louisiana-born swamp-rock pioneer Tony Joe White, also have recorded new takes on their old songs for their latest albums.
And they're following the recent lead of Alanis Morissette, who did a 10-year anniversary acoustic retake on Jagged Little Pill" in 2005, and the Cowboy Junkies, who observed The Trinity Session's" 20th last year by remaking the album with the help of guest singers Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt.
Earlier precedents of note include Joni Mitchell's 2002 release Travelogue," which dressed some of her early songs in orchestral arrangements, and Roy Orbison's In Dreams: the Greatest Hits," a 1987 collection in which the singer revisited Crying," Only the Lonely" and other classics.
Call it the lure of the legacy.