Summary

Martha Wainwright is an artist who has absolutely no fear of emotional honesty, a quality that has long figured strongly in her work (not everyone has the nerve to record a song called "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" about their own semi-famous father), and she has plenty to open up about on her fifth album, Come Home to Mama. This is Wainwright's first set of original material since 2008, and since then she got married, had a child who was born 11 weeks premature, and struggled with the death of her mother, and not surprisingly, life's transitions dominate the songs here. Wainwright doesn't pull any punches in her songwriting; her songs about her marriage range from warts-and-all celebrations of her relationship ("Can You Believe It") to bittersweet admissions of defeat ("Some People"), and the closing song to her child, "Everything Wrong," may be the most harrowingly honest song addressed to one's offspring since Richard Thompson's "The End of the Rainbow." But some of the most potent material here deals with Wainwright's late mother, Kate McGarrigle; the album includes Wainwright's interpretation of "Proserpina," the final song McGarrigle wrote, which uses mythology as a metaphor for the often turbulent relationship between mother and daughter, and "All Your Clothes" finds Wainwright struggling with the physical and emotional baggage left to her by her mom's passing. While this material is emotionally intense, Wainwright never sounds like she's wallowing in self-pity, and her sharply expressive, slightly theatrical vocals are in splendid form, while the production (mostly by Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto) has a slightly cool electronic undertow that complements both Wainwright's wit and her harsh introspection. And Wainwright is accompanied by some superb musicians who give these songs the support they deserve, including Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Dirty Three drummer Jim White, and Sean Lennon on bass. Come Home to Mama isn't always an easy or cheery listen, but anyone familiar with Martha Wainwright's work knows not to expect that; it is a compelling, engaging, and emotionally powerful set of songs from a strikingly talented singer and songwriter, and this is her most intimate and affecting work to date. ~ Mark Deming