The first thing you notice on Martha Wainwright is that voice — powerful, weird, unpredictable. Well, I guess the first thing you notice is the name, since Martha is indeed the latest member of the Canadian-American folk-rock Wainwright dynasty to make it into the recording studio (after her father, Loudon Wainwright III; her mother, Kate McGarrigle; and her older brother, Rufus Wainwright). But her 2005 debut, which rounds up material from a slew of earlier EPs, plus additional originals and a few traditional covers, quickly transcends the baggage of her lineage.
The tone on Martha Wainwright veers from despondent to amused, while the lyrics skate between sorrow and romance, often landing squarely in both camps (though Wainwright went on to marry the album's co-producer, Brad Albetta, so things can't be all that bad). "This Life" comes on like a rock song, then "Whither Must I Wander?" returns to pastoral folk forms. It's all heavy on drama, never more so than on the unforgettable "BMFA," a profanity-laced, complex look at her relationship with her father. What unifies the disparate styles into such an impressive whole, though, is her delivery, with its highly personal phrasing and leaping dynamics. Soon enough, don't be surprised if people hear the name Rufus Wainwright and ask, "Hey, is he any relation to Martha?"