Martha Wainwright always gives it to you straight. Her most recent album begins with a song that leaves no doubt about her inclination toward laying everything on the line: “My heart was made for bleeding all over you,” she sings. “And I know you’re married but I’ve got feelings, too.”
She comes from a family who wear their hearts on their sleeves. In addition to folk goddess mother Kate McGarrigle, there’s older brother Rufus Wainwright, whose love of sex and drugs and pretty much anything that might not always be a good idea was memorably detailed in a sunny (really) tune named “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” Their estranged father Loudon Wainwright III once smacked his daughter a little too hard when she was five then documented it in an alternately cloudy and clear-eyed rumination called “Hitting You.” Martha did him one better with a tribute to dad called “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” These people like to share. My kind of people.
I didn’t really start listening to Martha until I attended Rufus’s Hollywood Bowl concert last year, the one in which he performed the entirety of Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall album (my kind of people…) and brought Martha out to sing “Stormy Weather.” She began it almost cartoonishly waifish and wounded; it’s probably the reason I wrote in this month’s magazine that she sounds like Betty Boop lodged inside Marianne Faithfull’s throat. But her warm, scratched record of a voice reaches higher and stretches wider than expected. She stopped the show; she was as achingly weird and wonderful as Judy used to be.
Her own music can’t easily be classified. She shares with her more famous brother a gift for grabbing any sound at any moment—it’s essentially confessional folk, I suppose, but edged with rock that could twang into country in a heartbeat. Suffice to say, she’ll sing whatever and however it takes to express the joy, hurt, rage, or sorrow she needs to unload.
Since my weekly Weekend Out post only covers Thursday through Sunday, I thought I should append it with the mention that Martha will be at the Triple Door this Monday night and so will I and so should you be.
Here’s her “Stormy Weather” as performed during Rufus’ Judy gig at the London Palladium: