Review Summary: Canadian singer-songwriter steps out from the shadows of brother Rufus Wainwright with an assured debut.
Come, come out from behind the curtains Martha Wainwright.
Take a bow. Your time has come.
Indeed, the recent revival of acoustic music seems an especially apt time for Martha Wainwright to step from the shadows of her successful musical family. And well, if I was female, my brother was Rufus and my father Loudon Wainwright III, I too would be pretty apprehensive about putting out an album knowing that that’s what I had to live up to. But kudos to Martha for stepping up to the plate.
Success is often built on instinct, and although Wainwright has been singing and writing for years, she was never in hurry to record this album. At 29, this debut is the culmination of a long gestation period of learning, developing and connecting with her music while finding her own voice. What’s more interesting is that the record was recorded by Wainwright with producer Brad Albetta (also her bass player) in his studio before record labels started showing any interest. If that sounds like someone who is confident, then it shows. Her instincts have proved her right, and the result is an assured piece of work that should stamp her as one of the brighter female artists of recent times.
A strictly biographical set of songs is highlighted by Wainwright’s strong lyrics that paint very stoic, proud female characters who are also coloured by a certain vulnerability lurking beneath the surface. Contrast, for instance, the raw Bloody Motherf***ng Assole where a defiant Wainwirght yells:
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I am alright for you
When all I ever wanted was to be good
Do everything in truth
Later on Tv Show she acknowledges:
I am not such good lover
I am a better talker
So when you touch me there
I’m scared that you will see
Not the way that I don’t love you
But the way that I don’t love myself
Its as though she’s struggling to come to grips as to which one of these characters is really her – perhaps both at different times in life.
In between these two extremes she fits in songs about childhood, friends and jilted lovers. Indeed, it is in these memories that Wainwirght proves most devastating. The opening track ‘Far Away’ is gorgeous, with its backing vocals reaching a crescendo before Wainwirght pleads (“I have no children/I have no husband/I have no reason/To be alive, oh give me one”) without sounding the least bit jaded. On G.P.T and When the Day is Short she playfully remembers adolesence, with reference to starry nights, when you’re drunk enough to go home with ‘whoever is sure’.
A more downbeat assessment of love and loss comes from two stunningly beautiful ballads - Don’t Forget and These Flowers - that recall the vulnerability of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. She also throws in a duet with Rufus for good measure and a good rendition of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Wither must I wonder’.
The weight of expectation in following her family footsteps may be great, but Wainwright seems comfortable exploring and paving her own pathway to success. This debut confirms that Wainwright has every right to assert her own in the industry, and respect should be paid to her work and not her name.