addy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” From Sylvia Plath to Patti Smith and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, there has been no shortage of poetry or songs penned about fathers. On last year’s ambiguously titled Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole EP, Martha Wainwright followed the path paved by sibling Rufus in “Dinner at Eight” and aimed a few lyrical barbs at Loudon III. They hit their mark; the hyperbolic title track was a heartfelt and intimate excerpt that made listeners feel like that dinner guest stranded awkwardly at the end of a hostile table as one family member lambasted another, knife in hand: “I will not pretend,” Wainwright wailed in her arresting flutter, “I will not put on a smile / I will not say I’m all right for you / For you, whoever you are.” The song has since proven to be indicative of the New York-based Canadian’s remarkable songwriting ability, but then again, given her kin’s musical prowess, perhaps such a polished full-length debut was always in the offing.
Wainwright’s mother and folk legend, Kate McGarrigle, makes some particularly delicate contributions to “Factory” and “Don’t Forget;” her subtle banjo and piano entwining beautifully with her daughter’s regrets and lamentations. The seemingly ubiquitous Rufus also lends his unmistakable vocal presence to the album, culminating in an ethereal and haunting harmony near the end of “The Maker” that gradually dissipates to leave Martha’s stark couplet lingering between some remarkably understated and circular instrumentation.
Arguably, however, Wainwright’s strongest songs are those without familial involvement. “I have no children / I have no husband / I have no reason to be alive / Oh, give me one,” she pleads on the album opener, “Far Away.” The song is Godspeedesque, for lack of a better neologism, in outlook: blades of grass burn, crack floats in the wind, and dogs bark incessantly as people lose their minds. The harp-laced highlight of “These Flowers” would not seem out of place alongside the freak-folk of Josephine Foster, whilst “Whither Must I Wander,” Vaughan Williams’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s pastoral elegy, is an undeniably potent bookend on a shelf of disparate styles and influences, catalogued by the harrowing lyrics of a musician yet to reach her artistic zenith.
There is something intangibly timeless at work here. As Martha stares intently through the hazy, faded vermilion of the album cover, I cannot help but think of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. The similarity could cease then and there for many, but I think it rests a while before moving on. Wainwright exhibits a rare talent as a confessional singer/songwriter; her album is an impressive, not to mention emotive, first LP from an ambitious artist unwilling to cling to her family’s famous coattails.
Reviewed by: Ben Wilson
Reviewed on: 2005-05-05