The Wainwright Sisters - Songs in the Dark

by Hayden Harman Rating:7 Release Date:2015-11-13

The latest music created by the progeny of the royal Wainwright clan comes from half-sisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Their first collaborative effort, Songs in the Dark, is a rich and fitting tribute to songs and lullabies both classic and forgotten. Taken as a whole, the album captures the murky feel of an antique shop; full of old discarded childhood toys, black-and-white photographs and oniric memories. But there is also a warmth, like a family singing around a small fire, that radiates from the album and makes it an enjoyable collection of folk covers.

Opener “Prairie Lullaby” initially sounds like it could be a Marissa Nadler tune, but gradually becomes less gothic and gloomy and more peacefully sleep-inducing as it unfolds. The Woody Guthrie (“Hobo’s Lullaby”) and Paul Simon (“El Condor Pasa”) covers that follow made me think that this would be a great record for children because, apparently,

). But by the fourth song, a cover of patriarch Loudon Wainwright III’s “Lullaby,” I realized this is clearly for adults, with lyrics like “do me a favor/ don’t bitch in your sleep” somehow not sounding very appropriate for a young child.

The songs that follow only get more adult in theme: there’s Kate McGarrigle’s grown-up and sentimental “Lullaby for a Doll, The Roches’ powerful “Runs in the Family” (at best a song about the “

,” at worst about sexual abuse) and Rosalie Sorrels’ darkly humourous “Baby Rocking Medley.” The album then dives into its bleakest moments with plain-stated existential lyrics penned by Townes Van Zandt and Richard Thompson, which the sisters sing with a beautiful ease. The album finishes with a mixture of traditional songs and selections from the Great American Songbook. These range from the wistfully romantic (“Do You Love An Apple”) to the downright depressing (“Go Tell Aunt Rhody”), which is the mood the sisters decide to end on.

The strength of Songs in the Dark comes from its sequencing and song selection. The Wainwright sisters have a deep appreciation for songwriters old and new, and though it might have been nice to hear a few originals, the way they recontextualize other’s work is what makes the album compelling. The album functions like a well-crafted mix tape; only its creators are talented enough to perform the songs instead of simply sequencing them together. There are funny, sad, bizarre and tender moments, all sung with a warm, familial ease. Songs in the Dark is another testament that this younger generation of Wainwrights are living up to the high standards set by their parents.

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