Martha Wainwright, Come Home to Mama

Rachael Maddux

By Rachael Maddux

on 10.16.12 in Reviews
Alternately searching and celebratory

“There are fewer and fewer people to complain to/ so I built a ship of shit and directed it to you,” Martha Wainwright sings on “Can You Believe It,” the second song on her third record, her voice a wry curl. This is no apology song (that would be the simmering opening track, “I’m Sorry”), more like a monument to her own capacity for churlishness and her partner’s ability to bear it. Come Home to Mama is Wainwright’s first record since she gave birth to her first child and lost her mother, the folk singer Kate McGarrigle, within the span of a few months in 2009 and 2010, and the ironies of those concurrent milestones figure heavily into her lyrics here, alternately searching and celebratory, casting wide nets of existential despair and fixating on domestic minutia. This, plus the kitchen-sink instrumental production (horns and strings, beeps and bloops; “I Wanna Make An Arrest” even borders on a disco boogie), leads to a few moments of tonal and textural whiplash. But maybe that’s how life seems when you’re grappling with suddenly becoming the one doing the calling-home, never again to be called home yourself. The high point of the record, and perhaps Wainwright’s whole career, is “Proserpina,” the last song McGarrigle wrote, unrecorded until now; it spills over with beautiful, fruitless longing, Wainwright’s aching voice floating above a cascade of strings but pulled back to the hard, real earth by a mournful, pacing piano line. She is, at once, both Hera, the desperate mother, and Proserpina, the wayward child lost to the underworld.