September 16, 2005

Songs from the Heart

Filed under: Archive,Music

Jimmy Webb
8 September
Martha Wainwright, with Josh Ritter
9 September
Governor Hindmarsh

Murray Bramwell

We’ve had many good nights at the Gov – last week, two in a row. Songwriter Jimmy Webb is on his sixth visit but, this time, he is spruiking his first album of new material in a while. Dedicated, as he says, “to rebels, outcasts and unruly characters of all types,” Twilight of the Renegades begins with Paul Gauguin in Tahiti and veers outwards from there. Some of Webb’s new material is disappointingly thin but that is partly because he is in competition with the masterpieces of his own back catalogue.

In concert he is an affable raconteur, a rangy Southern gallant with an easy style, a shrewd wit and modesty that is downright unexpected. A success from the age of seventeen when Up, Up and Away went stratospheric for the Fifth Dimension, Webb’s achingly melodic songs are a notable part of late sixties pop music, capturing both the romance and the uncertainty of those times. And back they come – as he croons the Glen Campbell hits, Galveston and Wichita Lineman and, the song that gave its name to the group comprising Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and the other hoarse men of the Apocalypse – Highwayman.

The songs still have their evocative singularity – Webb uses place names in the same artful way as Chuck Berry – and with his mellow voice and florid piano he sings tributes to old friends, including such lamented renegades as Harry Nilsson and Richard Harris, Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. With good-natured charm Webb reflects wryly on a lucky life, and – with those marvelously pompous chords from McArthur Park – how he has not only had his cake but, also, left it out in the rain.

Last time we saw Martha Wainwright was in January, along with others of her gifted, dysfunctional clan – mother Kate McGarrigle, Aunt Anna and brother Rufus. Now, with good support from the talented Josh Ritter and accompanied by musical collaborator, Brad Albetta, she is touring a self-titled album which is among the best released this year. Wainwright has many of the family traits – a pensive lyricism from Kate, an acerbic stroppiness from father Loudon and a precocious operatic virtuosity like sibling Rufus.

Opening the set with two fine songs, Factory and Far Away, Wainwright is skittish and intense in her denim skirt and dolly-bird white boots. She is calling for her guitar mike to be turned down, but it is her vocals that sometimes overpower her songs. Nicely framed in Albetta’s production on her CD, in a live performance her voice can be shrill and the effect, especially in more shapeless compositions like Jimi, and Ball and Chain, is histrionic.

But there are some sublime moments – her torch ballad You’ve Got a Way With Me, the reading of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, her Katrina tribute ( father Loudon III’s Pretty Good Day ) and the sweetly lyrical single with the Adult Concepts title, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. Martha Wainwright has a ton of talent whether delivering French chanson or the memorable Year of the Dragon from the McGarrigle Family Hour CD. Her parting song is the haunting Don’t Forget. We won’t – and, next time round, if there is any fairness in this world at all, many more people won’t be forgetting Martha Wainwright either.

The Adelaide Review, No. 277, September 16, 2005, p.20.

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