- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Martha Wainwright

I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too

Zoe Records

She’s not a big star in the United States, but in Canada, Martha Wainwright is musical royalty. She’s the daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, the sister of Rufus Wainwright and part of a continuum of great Montreal songwriters - ranging from Leonard Cohen to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler.

That’s a lot of legacy to live up to, and for a time, Miss Wainwright shied away from the spotlight, spending much of her youth singing backup for her more famous parents and brother. Now, at 32, she’s letting it rip on her own.

As the album’s title indicates, the songs on Miss Wainwright’s second full-length album mix sardonic wit with genuine outrage. She shows herself equally adept at hard-driving rock, especially with girl-and-guitar numbers. The sheer strength of her voice is perhaps best demonstrated on “I Wish I Were,” a slow ballad sandwiched between two cover songs at the end of the album. Her voice rises from a whisper to a coo to a gentle lilt to an angry roar. She’s singing nearly naked here, with a guitar and piano trading riffs, giving way to an organ and the trill of a mandolin. The point of the song lies in the raw vulnerability of its delivery more than in the words, as Miss Wainwright sings, “I wish I were a singer, dancer/ Dancing for your love.”

There are some lush, memorable orchestrations here, especially on the antiwar song “The Tower,” which alludes to Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece “The Tower of Song.” It opens to a slow tempo with a mix of strings, synthesizer and bass clarinet and picks up speed and urgency. The singing here has a classical feel, and the clear, shimmering high notes Miss Wainwright hits are as impressive as anything on the record.

The album’s title is lifted from the chorus of the first track, “Bleeding All Over You,” a darkly comic confessional song. It blends a mournful fiddle part with an upbeat acoustic guitar rhythm and backing vocal part. The all-too-familiar story of unreciprocated emotion opens with the lyric, “There are days/ When the cage/Doesn’t seem to open very wide at all.” On the page, the line “I know you’re married, but I have feelings too” has a self-mocking quality. Yet immersed in the song, it conveys the contradiction of knowing something is impossible to attain and wanting it nonetheless.

The second track, “You Cheated Me,” is a variation on a similar theme, but it’s got a snappy, dark Phil Spector vibe, as befits such lines as, “You were my only ally/Now you’re looking around for an alibi.” It features a guitar part by Pete Townshend, but a simple drum part drives the track, authoritatively bridging verse and chorus. The other rhythm-driven track is a cover - of the Eurythmics synth-pop hit “Love Is a Stranger.” It’s a strange but rewarding choice. Though the original Annie Lennox vocal is cool and distant, Miss Wainwright belts it out like a roadhouse singer. The arrangement substitutes hand claps for drum machine and pedal steel and horns for synthesizer. It makes for a breezy coda to an album that is at moments weepy and intense.



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