Sunday 25 March 2018

Martha homes in on her famous mother

John Meagher

John Meagher

album of the week

martha wainwright

Come Home to Mama

(Cooperative Music)


Being the offspring of a celebrated parent is never easy, doubly so when both mother and father are lauded in the very field you're trying to make your name in.

Spare a thought, then, for Martha Wainwright who not only has to contend with comparisons to singer-songwriter father Loudon Wainwright III and folk stalwart mother Kate McGarrigle (who died in January 2010) but also to her highly prolific musician brother, Rufus.

Perhaps wisely, she has chosen not to deny her lineage, and her family relationships have provided fuel for some of her best songs.

She's been remarkably candid, too, with one of her earliest compositions, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, directed squarely at her father who, she acknowledges, wasn't a terribly nice guy when she was growing up.

Her relationship with Kate was far more nourishing as this, her third studio album, makes clear. It's her first album of new material in four years -- a live homage to Edith Piaf appeared in 2009 -- and it's the first she's released since Kate died, aged just 63.

The pain Martha feels at the loss of her mother is writ large across several of these songs.

And that grief is refracted through the prism of her own new-found motherhood.

Rather than salve her sense of loss, her status as a parent has made her acutely aware of the bond between mother and child and of the heartbreak her own son may experience.

She demonstrates her gifts as a songwriter with Everything Wrong, a gorgeous and moving track in which a mother dispenses advice to her child. It could be Martha offering sage words to her boy or, just as likely, her mother sharing wisdom with her when she was growing up.

Her feel for songwriting is surely inherited from Kate, whose way with words and melody is beautifully captured on Proserpina, the last song she wrote before her death, and which is rendered quite sublime by Martha here.

Plaintive piano and delicate strings add texture to a heartrending composition which takes its name from an ancient Roman goddess.

These tracks show what a captivating artist Wainwright can be, but they also highlight the fact that her quality control can dip badly and there are a handful of ballads that don't move the listener in the way she might have hoped.

Still, it's difficult not to be engaged by a songwriter as nakedly upfront as Martha is, not least when she's in tragi-comic mood as she is on the playful, but illuminating Can You Believe It? "I really like the make-up sex," she sings, a hint of mischief in her voice.

"It's the only kind I ever get."

KEY TRACKS Proserpina; Everything Wrong

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