The song “Blame It on the Storm” was reviewed here not that long ago (by yours truly), but the rest of this release by Louie—NOLA’s finest and wittiest folkie, although that’s really just his jumping off point—is significantly less upbeat. To be sure, it’s an odd comparison to make, considering just how well “Storm” wryly demonstrates the city’s ability to turn even tragedy into a lockdown tradition. But Louie is, like so many of us these days, even angrier than before, yet simultaneously convinced that neither his anger nor his hard-won bursts of optimism are going to do the world any good. And despite that occasional optimism (“Best Day Ever”) or the sharp cynicism of tracks like “If You Ever Lose Jesus” (…just go look in jail), he’s still making a statement by refusing to release one. His songs may be largely gentle, quiet, reflective and immaculately self-produced, but Ludwig isn’t even rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic anymore, just trying to keep dry for as long as possible.
“World Without War,” for example, takes the exact same philosophical tack as John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but he’s not dreaming any more, much less waiting for you to join him in building Utopia. “The Day My Daddy Swam to Mexico” sounds benign until you realize his father’s starting out from Tampa Bay. His take on the folk standard “Old Virginia,” replete with vocal echo and fiddle didgeridoos, sounds less like a ballad of betrayal and more like vengeance from beyond the Confederate grave. And the closing title track is indeed his anti-anthem; eyeing millennial optimism like a cheap knockoff of his own, broken kind (“It literally kills me that totally everything is awesome and pretty okay”). Clearly, his older-Candide cynicism would be a downer if not for his wit: We need songs titled “God Hates Flags” and tunes that rhyme “ad hominem” with “mama and dem.” But if it’s his own experience with the human race that’s keeping him from taking a stand, then why does the person on the album cover have duct tape over their mouth? Hmm.