When musicians start writing songs about their kids, it’s usually time to reach for the ‘off’ switch. But on her new album Martha Wainwright upends this fundamental law of pop, with music that celebrates the joys of domesticity without ever tipping into the traditional smugness.
Wainwright has toiled through her career in the shadow of iconic parents – folk luminaries Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle – and a successful brother, Rufus.Yet rather than develop a chip on her shoulder she gives the impression of revelling in her status as the clan’s twinkling secret.
A welcome strain of self-deprecation was in evidence as she commenced her latest tour with a performance that confirmed the 40 year old as a beguiling chronicler of early middle age and the trials and perks of parenthood.
With a husband and two young sons, Wainwright is in the throes of family life : a state of affairs that has imbued fourth album, Goodnight City, with a scruffy, observational charm.
That lightly worn air of celebration was a signature of the concert, as she skipped playfully between ditties about her two boys to a keening number by her aunt Anne McGarrigle.
One of the conceits of Goodnight City is that it is a collaboration between Wainwright and fans of her music, including Glen Hansard and her brother Rufus. She dusted down tracks by both – the former a ragged yelp of a tune, the later epic and heartfelt.
There was a further lump in throat moment during the encore as she covered Chelsea Hotel No 2 by Leonard Cohen. The late singer had been a friend and mentor and the turn carried the sting of genuine loss.
Wainwright was an endearing hostess, leavening the often intense music with zippy anecdotes and a gadabout grin. At a moment when it feels as if the world is falling down around our heads, her grace and dry wit were just the pick-me-up you needed.