Album Review: Songs in the Dark by The Wainwright Sisters
Great, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Most mothers sing to their children, but not all infants have the privilege of being sung to sleep by revered figures of the contemporary folk scene of the '70s and '80s. Two key things that stepsisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche have in common is that (a) they were both fathered by Loudon Wainwright III, and (b) they had remarkably gifted singers for mothers, as Martha's mom was Kate McGarrigle (who recorded a handful of brilliant albums with her sister Anna), while Lucy was born to Suzzy Roche (who was one third of the fine sibling vocal trio the Roches). While Martha and Lucy have made splendid music on their own, they've teamed up for the first time as the Wainwright Sisters to record a collection of lullabies, and Songs in the Dark is a lovely and surprising set of tunes for late at night.
Half sisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche are both veteran songwriters as well as second-generation musicians. Songs in the Dark, their first musical collaboration, is an exploration of the creepy side of lullabies.The Wainwright Sisters' voices blend together perfectly, and the melodies here are calming — almost too much so. (Don't listen to this while driving; Do not operate heavy machinery while Songs in the Dark is on; etc.)A close listen to the lyrics, though, reveals the darker side of bedtime stories.
There’s an inevitable sense of history repeating itself with Martha Wainwright and her sister Lucy Wainwright Roche recording Songs In The Dark. As well as continuing the Wainwright family’s remarkable tradition for musical collaboration, there’s a very obvious nod to the series of albums that Martha Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, recorded with her sister Anna McGarrigle – there’s the same beautifully minimal arrangements and gorgeous harmonies, although this is more than just a cosy nostalgia trip for the family. Songs In The Dark has been described by The Wainwright Sisters as “an album of dark, twisted lullabies” and that certainly seems to fit the description of many of the songs gathered on it.
Richard Thompson’s ditty “End of the Rainbow” may be the bleakest song ever written. With its chorus of: It’s difficult to imagine a more desolate, dismal, and depressing philosophy addressed to a child. The Wainwright Sisters cover it on their debut album, Songs in the Dark, along with six songs with the word “lullaby” in their titles and other tunes that function in the same way, including several written by and sung to them by their famous parents.
The Wainwright family’s staggeringly rich contribution to music continues here with Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche’s gorgeous album of family songs remembered from their youth beautifully interwoven with smartly chosen folk standards. Their voices - Martha’s a silken whisper, Lucy’s a bold, brilliant gem - are what ties this tender sojourn through birth, youth, love and loss together. Bound as tightly in harmony as they are in family, the Wainwright’s revival of lullabies that their respective mothers Kate McGarrigle and Suzzy Roche sang to them in childhood is as haunting as it is endearing.
A collaboration between Martha Wainwright and her half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche has been a long time coming. Their family tree is home to Kate and Anna McGarrigle and the Roches, two sister acts themselves. The family ties don't stop there. The swaying track Screaming Issue pairs up aunt Terre Roche and father Loudon Wainwright III and concerns a then-infant Lucy.