Today, in our first of what promises to be a fine series of Folk Family Fridays, we bring you a family tree of Wainwrights: Loudon, Rufus, Martha, and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, proud and outstanding in their field. Keep an ear and eye open for upcoming posts on the Taylor/Simons, the Thompsons, three generations of Guthries, The Ungars, and anyone else we can connect by blood or marriage in less than six degrees.
Loudon Wainwright III met Kate McGarrigle in Greenwich Village in 1969; she and her sister were darlings of the Quebec folk scene; he was struggling to make a name for himself in the New York folk world. Their marriage didn't last long, but happily for the folk canon, it produced both enough acrimony to provide fodder for their own songwriting for years to come, and future folk-musicians Rufus and Martha, who each went on to make made a name and a niche for themself by continuing the family tradition of using their music to blast out at their family.
(Sidenote: Loudon went on to marry Suzzy Roche of the Roche Sisters; their daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche has performed with Rufus and Loudon, and released some great covers herself. And commenter woolmanite rightly notes that Loudon's sister Sloan is a folk-rocker, too. But we'd be here all night if I didn't stick to the once-nuclear Wainwright/McGarrigle branch of the family tree. Another time, another post...)
If even Vanity Fair has told their story, what else is there to say about the Wainwrights? For starters, consider the potential in tracing not just lyrical roots and commonality among folk families, but in listening to their works sequentially to compare the way nurture and stylistic choice and random genetic mixes produce in some folk families a sort of common voice, while in other families, subsequent generations end up at different poles of the folk spectrum, even while their voices echo their roots, their families, and their genre.
The Wainwrights are a poster family for the latter case; unlike many folk families (see, for example, Arlo and Woody Guthrie), each one of the Canadian-American Wainwrights has their own defined musical style. Yes, there's a faint hint of Kate and Anna's breathy melodies in Martha's airy intonation, Dad's swallowed vowels and a touch of Mama Kate's loose country melody in brother Rufus' torch song approach. The playfulness of lyric and performance, a dominant trait, shine through both sides. But the torch song stylings Rufus favors are all his own, and though she styles herself folkpop, Martha's a darling of the indie movement for a reason.
Of the four -- we'll count Kate and Anna as one -- Rufus is the one who has truly made a name for himself as a coverartist. I posted his co-cover of King of the Road when we covered his co-conspirator and constant companion Teddy Thompson earlier, and live bootlegs of everything from Careless Whisper to his Judy Garland covers bob up to the blogsurface constantly. You've heard his Hallelujah, and so I've posted a different Leonard Cohen cover here.
But as with all true folksingers, the recorded output of each of these prolific singer-songwriters includes enough covers to keep listeners smiling and this post on track. Today, some especially bright gems from the immense coveroutput of a collective century of musical genepool genius. I'm especially enamoured of Loudon's yelping bluegrass interpretation of the traditional Hand Me My Banjo Down. It puts Springsteen's version to shame.
- Loudon Wainwright III and Tony Trischka, Hand Me My Banjo Down (trad.)
- Kate & Anna McGarrigle feat. L. Wainwright, Schooldays (orig. L. Wainwright III)
- Martha Wainwright, Bye Bye Blackbird (orig. Gene Austin)
- Martha Wainwright, Tower of Song (orig. Leonard Cohen)
- Rufus Wainwright feat. Kate McGarrigle, Lowlands Away (trad.)
- Rufus Wainwright, Harvest Moon (orig. Neil Young)
- Rufus Wainwright, Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (orig. Leonard Cohen)
Expect a few more Wainwright family songs as we approach the holidays; 2005 release The McGarrigle Christmas Hour was one of the finest Christmas albums from the folk camp since the millenium turned over. Maybe I'll confront the Roche/Wainwright connection then -- the Roche Sisters' We Three Kings is a refreshing, crisp winterdisk, too.
In the meantime, instead of creating the world's largest buy-these-discs paragraph, here's a link to the webpages of each Wainwright/McGarrigle mentioned in today's post:
- Purchase Rufus Wainwright tuneage and play it often
- Pick up Martha Wainwright and you'll never put her down
- Louden up with 35 years of Loudon Wainwright III
- Revel in the sweet quirky harmonies (and bilingual website) of Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Today's bonus songs are few but precious:
- Emmylou Harris covers Kate McGarrigle's Going Back to Harlan
- Regina Spektor covers Chelsea Hotel No. 2
Stay tuned over the next few days for our first KidFolk coverpost (Garcia and Grisman! Alison Krauss! The Be Good Tanyas!) and yet another guest post over at Disney coverblog Covering The Mouse. Enjoy!