Music Review: Martha Wainwright's alto commands attention

STEVEN WINE
Associated Press

Martha Wainwright, "Goodnight City" (PIAS)

Martha Wainwright tests musical boundaries on "Goodnight City," and not just when she pushes her voice to the top of her range and beyond.

The album is old-school singer-songwriter fare in that it's autobiographical and confessional while addressing such topics as romance, parenthood and a mother's death.

But Wainwright's alto sends the songs into another realm. Like a roller-coaster, her theatrical delivery isn't for everyone, but it commands attention.

Wainwright is over the top on "Around the Bend"; she wails with punk abandon on "So Down"; threatens to break glass on "Before the Children Came Along"; and adopts a boozy persona on a cover of Beth Orton's "Alexandria."

The arrangements are likewise varied. There's little guitar, some piano and horns, and several tunes with keyboard programming that can be filed under EFM — electronic folk music.

Wainwright began work on the album after the death of her mother, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, and much of the material is related to family. She sings about grief, and then about leaving the past behind.

Best is the final tune, "Francis," written by Wainwright's brother, Rufus, and graced with the clever wordplay characteristic of Wainwrights. Regardless of boundaries, there's always room for a well-written song.