Highlights: Can You Believe It?, Radio Star, Proserpina, Four Black Sheep, Everything Wrong
This is the sort of album you are supposed to put in a certain context; grave one, in this particular case: death of one of folk music’s most revered and celebrated figures, Kate McGarrigle (Martha’s mother). Obviously it’s not just the album’s title. And it’s not just the album’s first single, the poignant and soul-shattering lament “Proserpina” (actually written by Kate McGarrigle). It’s clear that the whole thing, from song 1 to song 10, is informed by this desperate, gut-wrenchingly emotional state Martha was going through.
But even if you take Come Home To Mama out of all possible contexts – this is without a doubt Martha Wainwright’s strongest set of tunes so far. She had the voice and she had charisma. She has lost neither, but now she has the songs, too.
In fact, the first six songs are all brilliant. Gorgeous, penetrating melodies filtered through Martha’s most inescapable vocal intonations: the simple, bare “Proserpina”, with its violin, piano and chilling choir, is of course the centerpiece, but you can’t go wrong with the powerful, effective “Rock Star” that goes from rock to jazz in a truly awe-inspiring way, or with the electronically driven “Four Black Sheep” that has a vocal melody to kill for. I’m a bit let down by the rather unremarkable “Some People” and “I Wanna Make An Arrest”, but she is back to her emotional best on the slow-burning closer “Everything Wrong”.
‘Impressive’ would be an understatement. Come Home To Mama is a revelation. Contexts, lyrics and voices are all nice and good, but my god how it all comes alive when the songs are this strong.