December 01, 2008

Siren Songs

Filed under: Archive,Music

Martha Wainwright
The Gov
November 21

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

It is more than three years since Martha Wainwright last played the Gov. She was supported by the excellent Josh Ritter and showcasing her self-titled first album, plus an adult concepts single, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, a musical arrow pitched plaintively at her famously absent father, Loudon Wainwright III. The family is a bit like that – hearts on their sleeves, lyrics dripping revenge and no stone unturned for the sake of a plangent melody. The famous daughter of famous parents – there’s Loudon, (who played a brilliant set at the Gov back in March) and her mother, Kate McGarrigle, of the sisters from Montreal. Then there’s older brother Rufus, singing a garland around Carnegie Hall.

Now, with a new album, and a new husband producing it, Martha seems to be jostling less in the family stakes and enjoying much deserved recognition of her own. To a warm welcome at the Gov, she and her band mix recent songs with previous favourites.. Accompanying herself on guitar she opens with the slow melancholy of I Wish I Were – her strong aching vocal extruding the ever-present Martha themes of rejection and insecurity. Those titles tell us much – Bleeding All Over You, Ball and Chain. Her voice is nimble, the band – partner Brad Albetta on bass, and guitarist Oren Bloedow (woeful earlier as the solo opener) adding some stylish fills.

So Many Friends, the singer adding filigree acoustic guitar, is an early high point, the song and its memorable bridge stronger than much of Wainwright’s own, sometimes undistinguished, material. New songs – the trickling rhythms of Jesus and Mary and The George Song are appealing, but it is the return to early work – the eerie Factory, Jimi and the American Songbook echoes of New York, New York, New York which provide depth to the list.

And the covers are welcome – even if she blanks on the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s The Traitor, she is more than match for a great standard. Such as the encore version of Stormy Weather, a Martha favourite in performance for very good reason. She sings it with such startling range and emotional depth that you wonder why she delivers so many masochistic little ballads in that Sadie Thompson-on-helium voice that she affects in more histrionic moments.

Relaxed and happy in a blue dress given her by Julia, of Angus and Julia Stone, Martha Wainwright closes with a ragged version of See Emily Play, Syd Barrett’s miniature pop masterpiece, turned into a frat party singalong. Martha Wainwright is a fine talent but she needs to shape her repertoire with more care. Stormy Weather was the place to call it a night – and a very fine night it would have been.

December, 2008. Commissioned but unpublished by The Adelaide Review

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