Album Review: Martha Wainwright, Goodnight City

Canadian Songstress Woos Stellar Writers

For her fourth studio album, Martha Wainwright wrote half the songs herself; the other 50 percent were penned for her by a remarkable cast of friends and relatives, including our own Glen Hansard and Booker Prize winning novelist and poet, Michael Ondaatje.

Recorded in Montreal with Gloaming piano-man, Thomas Bartlett, and longtime producer Brad Albetta, who also happens to be her husband, on knob-twiddling duties (both play on the album), Goodnight City is the most fun Wainwright has had “in a long time” – and it shows.

Like her brother, Rufus, and indeed their dad, Loudon Wainwright III, Martha never shies away from using her personal experiences in song. On confessional opener ‘Around The Bend’, the singer admits “I used to do a lot of blow/ but now I only do the show/ I like to get paid/ I never get laid”, while ‘Before The Children Came Along’ could make family get-togethers uncomfortable when her two sons reach adolescence. While her lyrics can make the listener feel like an unwitting voyeur, it remains part of Martha’s talent to make the deeply personal feel universal, as on the affecting ‘Franci’: “Francis was my mom’s middle name/ named after her dad who died when she was 19/ I never knew him and you never knew her/ But you would recognise me from her picture.”

‘Look Into My Eyes’ is a gorgeously atmospheric jazzy affair, co-written by her aunt, Anna McGarrigle, and cousin, Lily Lanken (McGarrigle’s daughter), which meanders beautifully from English to French. The words of ‘Piano Music’ come from Sri Lankan/Canadian author Ondaatje, while the prodigious Thomas Bartlett provides the sparse ivory-tinkling accompaniment. The Beth Orton-penned ‘Alexandria’ is a lovely slice of almost-Americana, while Hansard’s piano ballad, ‘One Of Us’ is heartbreakingly beautiful; it might work even better as a duet. There’s a bass-driven groove to ‘Take The Reins’, written by Merrill Garbus of tUne-yArDs, and brother Rufus’ ‘Francis’ is suitably over-wrought and theatrical.

Assured and authoritative, Goodnight City is the sound of Martha Wainwright at her best.

 

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