Wainwright in Winter

Loudon Wainwright III delivers with triumphant stridency

It wouldn’t be a Loudon Wainwright III album without a mix of exuberance and melancholy. In “Looking at the Calendar,” from his latest CD, “Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet),” the speaker throws up his hands and admits “there really is no day / That makes sense for us to end it, to throw it all away.”

It’s a breakup song with a sense of loss set to unusually (for the singer-songwriter) amplified, emphatic guitar, and Mr. Wainwright’s voice is at its full-throated best.

Once again, one of our sharpest chroniclers of family life comes through, in his writerly way, with closely observed details: “And we can’t quit at Christmastime / That’s also insanity / You have to check the lights work right / I have to lug the tree inside / It takes two to make the tree stand straight, to get it in the stand.” Yet this and all the other tender presaging of compromised singlehood Mr. Wainwright delivers with triumphant stridency.

Wainwright fans will recognize the sensation, memorably registered in what might be popular music’s happiest sad song, “Unhappy Anniversary,” off “Career Moves,” his 1993 live album. Fittingly, the new release brings back a couple of the players and sidemen from that happening party of a recording — David Mansfield, of the chiming mandolin (he’s the producer too this time), and Chaim Tannenbaum, a master harmonist who on that earlier album hit the high notes like he was the second coming of Ira Louvin of the Louvin Brothers.

Ah, the holidays: It’s safe to call them a theme. Mr. Wainwright, who in “Suddenly It’s Christmas” on “Career Moves” sweetly intones that “Christmas comes but once a year,” and pauses before the eviscerating “and goes on for two months,” here informs us, “I’ll be killing you this Christmas . . . a Bushmaster’s on my wish list,” asking, “What’s wrong with a handgun / When everybody has one? / Which is why we all need to be armed.” One of his wryly topical forays that you won’t be hearing on NPR.

Depression, all the rage these days, is explored, as the disc’s title suggests, more than once. “Depression Blues” addresses the affliction’s tenacity: The bluesman can sing about it; the comic (or entertaining singer-songwriter) can “Get that audience to lovin’ you boy, be a clown and get ’em goin’,” but “After the show when they all go home you’re left with your problem.”

The highlight of the album, though, might well be the dispatches regarding how we live now. “A space is a place that’s a beautiful thing,” Mr. Wainwright sings in “Spaced,” about the nirvana of a city parking space achieved. “When I see a space that I don’t even need / There’s a twinge of a feeling, it’s akin to greed.”

Further on city life, “Man & Dog” looks at the pleasures and oddities of such companionship, from the plastic bags carried at all times to the post-argument escape: “Walkin’ with a dog is easy / He listens, he don’t talk.”

The neat trick to “In a Hurry” is that it starts out like a Cheeverian observation of a working stiff getting off a train weighed down by a briefcase and an ulcer, and the tendency is to accept the authorial voice of Mr. Wainwright — of the storied East Hampton family of Dutch colonial bigwigs, robber barons, Time magazine columnists, and congressmen. Then the point of view is revealed: “I hold out this coffee cup, there’s no coffee in there.” The panhandler doesn’t want the commuter’s rushed, stressed life, “But if you give me something, it might help you too.”

To get back to the holidays — it is New Year’s, after all — Mr. Wainwright leaves us with the elegiac “Last Day of the Year,” which casts the celebration as a wake for time gone by. It’s a time for messing up the dating of checks, too, but please, listener, “Hallelujah hooray / Remember the last day / In March it’s cold and wet / And we tend to forget.”

Loudon Wainwright III Michael Wilson