Martha Wainwright brings her introspective folk music to The Great Hall
By Ron Johnson
“I question myself a lot in my own songs,” says Martha Wainwright, on the phone during a recent promotional tour for her new album, Come Home to Mama. “It is a tone, you know, that has become Martha Wainwright–esque, I think.”
True enough: Wainwright has made it a habit of turning out provocative and emotionally honest songs. And, given the year she’s had — the birth of her first son, Arcangelo, and the death of her mother, acclaimed folk singer Kate McGarrigle, two weeks later — it is no surprise that her new album is searingly introspective.
“It is a new beginning and a launching pad to start my new life in some way, my new life as a mother and as a motherless person,” she says, “as an adult that I had no intention of becoming. It is nice to have a focus, that’s the thing.”
Going into recording the album, Wainwright expressed the desire to work with a new, female producer, instead of the usual partner in sound, love and life, her husband, Brad Albetta, who ultimately provided her with the ideal person, Yuka Honda, co-founder of the band Cibo Matto, who had also produced (and at one time dated) Sean Lennon.
“The idea to work with her actually did come from Brad. He and I both knew that we didn’t want to make another record together,” Wainwright explains with a laugh. “We’d been through so much: having a kid, getting married, buying a house, losing a mother. I knew I wanted to work with a woman, but there are just so few woman producers. So Brad suggested her.”
And it was off to Honda’s Greenwich Village home where she lived with Lennon and a number of other New York City artists.
“It was wonderfully vibrant and bohemian. One day there would be a photo shoot going on, someone rehearsing, making a film, making a record. It was all very active,” says Wainwright. “It was fun. It was really inspiring to be around people who were excited about music.”
It is a city Wainwright knows well, having lived there for years. But after recent events, she thought it best to head home to Montreal. Now, both she and her brother Rufus Wainwright are back on Canadian soil, with Rufus residing down Highway 401 in Toronto.
Wainwright began her career singing backup for said big brother before releasing a four-song EP of original material, called Factory, in 2002, followed by another EP, apparently dedicated in some way to her father, folk musician Loudon Wainwright III, called Bloody Motherfu*king As*hole. Ahem.
Her full-length, eponymous debut was greeted with critical acclaim when it came out in 2005. And, although she’s released two additional albums, according to Wainwright, it is make it or break it time with Come Home to Mama.
“My career has been up and down, and I want to move to that next level,” she says.
The album title comes from a line in “Prosperina,” written by her mother as a gift to her and Rufus. It is heart-wrenching and beautiful. In addition, there are more than enough upbeat and off-kilter tracks to satisfy her current fans and, more than likely, garner quite a few new ones.
Martha Wainwright plays Toronto’s Great Hall on Nov. 8