Celtic Connections review: Loudon Wainwright III & Karan Casey, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

WHILE the third Loudon Wainwright’s mature oeuvre has mined and artistically refined everything contained in the lines, “If families didn’t break apart/I suppose there’d be no need for art” (from a 2012 album track, one of a few numbers here where the veteran verbal maestro/guitarist enjoyed a shot on the Concert Hall’s Steinway grand), his two late namesakes, father and grandfather, have loomed increasingly large.

Loudon Wainwright III

Loudon Wainwright III & Karan Casey, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

It reflects the now 72-year-old Wainwright III’s naturally growing concern with ageing and mortality, as proclaimed by his set’s third song, the quasi-comic demand/plea for a Double Lifetime – off that same 2012 album: Older Than My Old Man Now.

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Yet despite this apparent narrowing of focus – from one already minutely focused on his own and his family’s oft-dysfunctional rites of passage – this two-hour performance also highlighted Wainwright’s expanded expressive compass. He started out as an actor, and revisited this early discipline with riveting relish, extending his extraordinary eloquence across recitations from his journalist father’s Life magazine columns (as in Wainwright’s recent one-man show and Netflix special, Surviving Twin), and from 2017 memoir Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay & a Few of My Other Favorite Things.

For rendering the particular universal, and vice versa, with merciless vividness, ultra-black wit and, ultimately, profound compassion – allied with exceptional musicianship – there are precious few to touch him.

Stellar Irish singer Karan Casey’s contrastingly sublime opening set spanned her own remarkable expressive and stylistic virtuosity, from trad to blues via soul, honky-tonk and Janis Ian, flanked by a crack five-piece band. - SUE WILSON