[Album Review] Wainwright Sisters- Songs in the Dark
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Release Date: November 13th, 2015
Label: PIAS

Listening to ‘Songs in the Dark’ it is hard to believe that this is the debut from Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche as a duo. The two singers share a common artistic bent and their voices complement each other so well that you’d swear they had spent their lives performing together. But they haven’t. They actually grew up in two different families and in two different countries (Canada and USA) despite the fact they are both the daughter of folk legend Loudon Wainwright III.

Wainwright’s mother was a member of a sibling duo who did spend their lives performing together as the McGarrigle sisters. A lullaby that Kate McGarrigle sang to her as a child is lovingly included here (“Lullaby for a Doll”), as are songs that Roche’s mother sang to her. These particular tunes provide an emotional centrepiece to an impressive playlist that includes such luminary composers as Richard Thompson, Townes Van Zandt, Jimmie Rogers, and Irving Berlin.

In the harmonies Roche provides the solid base with her bright and clear voice, whereas Wainwright’s unique vocal style lends a certain childlike air and a quirkiness. This latter quality is essential here because not all of these ‘lullabies’ are totally pleasant – they can, in fact, be a little twisted. In “Baby Rocking Medley” babies grow in trees but they hail down when storms hit, and in “All the Pretty Little Horses” bees and butterflies peck out the eyes of a poor little ‘lambie’. Perhaps the height of dark humour is hit with the song “Lullaby” (written by the duo’s father) and the deliciously mean line, “Shut up and count some sheep/Do me a favour don’t bitch in your sleep”.

The album works for several reasons. The song selection is top-notch for one thing. The songs match the pair’s musical sensibilities and also collectively create a common vision – the world as seen through the eyes of a child, although not without some darker streaks. Wainwright and Roche also meld together so effortlessly that perhaps it is true that some things do ‘run in the family’.