While her older brother Rufus is the more famous sibling, Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist and occasional accordionist Martha Wainwright isn’t content to stand in anyone’s shadow. She’ll be gracing the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 4th at Théâtre Maisonneuve with lush dark-folk openers Dear Criminals. This we guarantee: The second Martha hits the stage, you’ll forget all about the rest of her family tree.
Folk music is typically sparse and intimate, a platform for pouring out the heart, and Wainwright — though not a ‘folk musician’, per se — has always embraced its “give from the gut” philosophy. Spanning styles from acoustic folk songs to piano ballads to jazz lounge laments, her chameleonic voice weaves and dives, recalling Joanna Newsom‘s girlish fragility one second and Patti Smith‘s rawness the next. Her lyrics are unvarnished, unsentimental and full of biting wit — “I really like the make-up sex / It’s the only kind I ever get,” goes one memorable couplet.
Wainwright’s latest album, 2012’s elegiac, motherhood-themed Come Home to Mama, is her most outre work yet, a dark brew of balladry, amospheric trip-hop and rock discordance, thanks to producer Yuka Honda (half of NYC experimentalist stalwarts Cibo Matto). As you might expect from that pedigree, the addition of electronics and studio wizardry has injected a new, noisy vibrance into Wainwright’s traditionally-traditional arsenal of sounds.
On her current tour, of which the Jazz Festival performance is part, Wainwright has this to say: “We’re a tight rock trio, so it has the intensity of the album but, interspersed in that, there are some quieter moments where I take the stage by myself, and also parts where I tip my hat to some older songs, some jazz standards and moments at the piano. It varies…it’s kind of a roller coaster ride!” (interview here)
She’s not kidding. Wainwright’s live act is known for stage banter and audience-participation moments as candid and spellbinding as anything she’s got written down, and her collaborative spectacles — she’s dueted with Snow Patrol and occasionally with her brother Rufus — are legendary. She’s also known for her spot-on live covers of classic chanteuses such as Edith Piaf, as well as those of Wainwright’s own mother, renowned Montreal songstress Kate McGarricle. Fans and critics all agree: as good as Martha is on album, the stage is where she really shines.
Fest-heads will note that this is Martha’s return to the Jazz Festival stage, following her Metropolis performance way back in 2006. We can’t say when she’ll be back again, so get your tickets now! In the meantime, we can watch Martha do her mother proud with a heartbreaking cover of McGarnicle’s “Proserpina”…