A Subversive Singer-Songwriter Comes to the Yukon

While Martha Wainwright began her current tour a year ago to promote her latest CD, Come Home to Mama, she says the North American portion of the tour has evolved into something a little more wide-ranging.

“At this point we’ve moved from promoting the latest album to doing songs from the previous two or three albums, actually,” Wainwright says. “So it’s really a variety of songs, as well as I also like to do a couple of my mom’s songs to draw attention to this new great record that came out in June.”

Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle is a tribute album to Wainwright’s mother, including performances by Wainwright, her brother Rufus, father Loudon Wainwright III, aunt Anna McGarrigle, and other guests.

“I’m on a kind of a journey of my own with some songs in French, some of Kate’s songs – that kind of thing,” she says.

She has written her own material since her late teens, but also covers the work of people like Leonard Cohen and Edith Piaf. Her cover choices are often brought to her by people who think she can bring something to a song.

“I listen to what they want me to sing, and if I like it then I’ll sing it,” she says.

In the past, her mother made a lot of suggestions about her cover repertoire and she misses that input. Older brother Rufus, with whom she started her stage career as a back-up singer, has also been tremendously influential.

“I’m attracted by the words, the melody – I have a very eclectic taste and a very eclectic sound that sometimes makes it difficult to market and to sell as an artist – to not be very definable,” says Wainwright. “It’s certainly been maybe not the best business choice, but I just can’t help it. I was so influenced by so many different kinds of music growing up. Then when I got older I listened to punk rock and edgier music, and I just can’t seem to throw any of those influences away, so I move through them like a bit of a chameleon.

“I hope that the string that’s keeping it all together is my voice and my style of singing, which is quite definitive.”

Marriage, the birth of her son and the loss of her mother have put her in a different headspace during the last couple of years. She feels that her work has matured, but that her style has remained the same.

“It’s usually a little bit subversive, very exposed… uncomfortable, but revealing in an interesting way that people can identify with,” she says.

Come Home to Mama is mostly her own material, but takes its name from a line in “Proserpina,” the last song her mother wrote, based on the Roman myth of Proserpina, who was kidnapped by Pluto and carried off to the underworld. Her partial restoration to the surface world is said to cause the coming of spring and her return to Hades ushers in the fall.

“To me it’s about death and rebirth,” says Wainwright. “I think in many ways Kate was returning to her own mother, Mother Earth, and these kinds of concepts. I think it’s clear in that song that she sort of has one foot in the grave already and that it has a kind of acceptance and grace to it.”

Wainwright and her small travelling band, including her husband, Brad Albetta, on bass, will play the Yukon Arts Centre on November 4 and the Odd Fellows Hall on November 5.

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