Album Review

Martha Wainwright's Latest Dose of Saucy Sentiment

Martha Wainwright - Goodnight City

Martha Wainwright has never been shy about expressing her more seething sentiments. That was made apparent on her notorious early outings, the descriptively titled “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” and her extraordinarily explicit self-titled album debut. Of course, when you grow up in the Wainwright household surrounded by talented, yet outspoken parents and siblings, a hint insurgence is bound to slip through. Still, that was 12 years ago, and now that she’s had opportunity to excise that antagonism, she’s reigned in her more provocative designs and focused instead on massaging her sound. Not that she’s given up her roughshod ways entirely; opening track “Around the Bend” finds her reminiscing about how “I used to do a lot of blow” before adapting the guise of a tortured chanteuse in songs such as “Before the Children Came Along” and “Window.” Wainwright’s gift for affectation sometimes seems a tad self-conscious, and when she dishes out the drama on “Piano Music” and “So Down,” it lands her in the same posh terrain as Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Cassandra Wilson. Wainwright herself can be both striking and sultry, but while many of these songs seem to drift along with a kind of nonchalance, the mood is anything but carefree. Even the affable “Franci” seems to mask a troubled spirit, one that’s dark and demonstrative. Martha may sound less contentious and considerably more poised, she can still come across as tangled and tempestuous whenever she feels the fervor.

She's a remarkable talent...incredible singer...must've been quite an you have noted, there's something bubbling under the surface all the time even when she isn't being outspoken or provocative...

Agreed - quite a character to say the least!

Easy Ed posted some live stuff a couple of columns ago where they (Martha and Rufus) were singing McGarrigle's music, tribut to their mom...their voices were incredible together...scary sibling symmetry...

And to think Dad has such an odd voice...but he had a skewed way of looking at things and he pased that down to them...

An extra note. Add Teddy Thompson voice to the siblings and it becomes something extraordinary. 

That would not surprise me, though I've not heard that...I saw Richard once when Teddy was touring with him...he has a great voice...

The families were close, and it seems that Teddy has long been in the mix with both Rufus and Martha, a particularly good friend of Rufus.

I remember years ago that I was in London on business for a week or two, and saw that Martha and Teddy were performing together at a prominent Thames-side location, with a musician artist-in-residence at the facility.  I forced a friend of mine to go with me, and it was a memorable evening.  The artist-in-residence was a beat-boxer, did rhythm with body sounds.  It was not clear that the three had rehearsed at all, very awkward.  Teddy was in his country phase, and I think it was shortly after Martha had released her first album.  Three very different worlds all came together.  Best parts were where Teddy and Martha dueted. I think my friend decided then and there that I was pretty weird.

I also saw Martha once when she played Massy Hall in Toronto, as first opener for Loretta Lynn.  Maybe 2% of the audience were there for Martha, 10% for both she and Loretta and the rest didn't have a clue who this folkie with the big guitar and voice was.  At one point she said she wasn't at all clear why she was at this show, and mentioned that she had a record out recently but would be passing on some of the songs (this was a reference to BMFA).  She was great, and then the second opener came on, Loretta's daughters, who were awful.  And then Loretta swanned on-stage in a massive white gown, looking like a wedding cake.  And she was great too -- did audience requests, and even re-configured her band to do a song from her recent duet album with Jack White.  The country band sounded rock and roll for one number.

"Forced a friend to go with me"....story of my life...most of the time it works out...and if it doesn't, well who needs that friend?   Well done Ron!