mon 23/09/2019

CD: Martha Wainwright - Goodnight City | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Martha Wainwright - Goodnight City

CD: Martha Wainwright - Goodnight City

After a four-year absence, the Canadian singer-songwriter returns with a solo outing

After four years, Martha Wainwright is back with her fourth solo album. While she’s been away she’s turned 40 and now says that on this outing she’s “a songwriter, but also just a singer and interpreter. This is perhaps the essence of who I truly am.”

Wainwright is, of course, folk royalty: the daughter of Kate McGarrigle (whose loss understandably dominated Come Home to Mama in 2012) and Loudon Wainwright, sister of Rufus. All have washed the family laundry in full public view. Her aunt is Anna McGarrigle, one of an eclectic range of writers who share the album’s credits: novelists Merrill Garbus and Michael Ondaatje, and singer-songwriters Glen Hansard and Beth Orton also feature.

Produced by Brad Albetta, Wainwright’s bassist husband, and Thomas Bartlett, Goodnight City is something of a curate’s egg: good in parts and sung in many voices. There are moments of folk-like simplicity, moments of art song and cabaret, moments of punk raucousness. There’s some beautiful instrumental work: cello and piano on “One of Us”, sax on “Look Into My Eyes”.

“I been going round the bend/I been taking lots of pills and things,” Wainwright sings in “Around the Bend”, the opening track and the album's single. Familiar territory. But by the second song (“Franci”), the preoccupations of Goodnight City are clear. We’re hearing from the singer as mother, daughter, wife and friend, learning about the inevitable conflicts. Particularly poignant is “Traveller”, in which she addresses her own mother: “You’re alive, you’re alive/In those children’s eyes.”

On “Piano Music” the timbre of her voice and the pared-down setting recall “Talk to Me of Mendocino”, the McGarrigles' much-covered classic. But midway through the song becomes something entirely other, its delicate piano figurations and vocal line straight out of the conservatoire tradition. A highlight. Then a few minutes later “So Down” takes us into raucous new wave.

There are mis-steps (“Before the Children Came Along” doesn’t really hold together, though you could argue that the musical confusion is an intended reflection of the chaos and exhaustion that comes from being a time-pressed mother and lover) but this is a brave and edgy album that rewards repeated listening.

Martha Wainwright sings as mother, daughter, wife and friend


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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