After a series of EPs, including last winter’s Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, and several years of sharpening her performance skills on stage, Martha Wainwright finally unveils her long-awaited full-length debut. Daughter of folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and back-up vocalist for her far-showier cabaret-pop singer-songwriter brother Rufus, Martha has proven to be not just a worthy pupil of such domestic tutelage, but a musician of equal caliber. Her influences range beyond her family, though: her quirky phrasing and dulcet harmonies (particularly on “The Maker,” which features Rufus) evoke those of alt-rock troubadour Tanya Donelly, while “Ball & Chain,” one of the album’s weaker tracks, suggests the angsty rock of any number of mid-‘90s female artists. Martha’s expressive voice, perhaps exemplified best on a cover of Vaughan Williams’s “Whither Must I Wander,” is a singular force, however, and her songs are filled with surprising cadences and lyrics that are startlingly beautiful. The self-titled album begins with the aching, reflective ballad “Far Away,” setting a melancholic tone for the entire disc: “I have no children/I have no husband/I have no reason to be alive.” The sentiment is never depressing, though—when she goes on to beg, “Oh, give me one,” it quickly becomes clear that this is a woman who wants, desperately, to live. Likewise, a song about unrequited love that recalls Jewel at her most innocuously delicate (“In my silly mind I’ve gotten married to you/You’re across town, don’t even have a clue”), “Don’t Forget” ends with a hopeful, organ-cushioned coda that relishes possibility: “Time moves in circles and can leave you anywhere.” The explicitly-titled title track of her most recent EP appears here in all its feminist anthem glory; Martha’s vocal is raw and ragged as she painstakingly (and boldly) declares, “Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man/So I could learn how to stand up for myself.” The song is quickly followed by “TV Show,” in which she credits the queen of daytime for her imposed sense of self-worth: “It was Oprah/On the TV show/She told me so.” In fact, the entire album is distinctly feminine. “These Flowers” and “This Life,” with their patient, elongated choruses and delicate, cascading piano melodies, are songs only a woman could write—and ones Rufus probably wishes he could.
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