Music Reviews
Goodnight City

Martha Wainwright Goodnight City

((Cadence Music / PIAS)) Rating - 7/10

It's been six years since the death of Kate McGarrigle, influential folk singer and Martha Wainwright’s mother. Her debut EP, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, was about her father, Loudon Wainwright III, and how he neglected his family. In a 2010 interview, Martha told the Telegraph that her “childhood revolved around her brother.” For much of her professional career, Martha Wainwright has danced around the dominating figures of folk music’s most illustrious family. Yet the singer is a powerhouse in her own right, and this has never rung quite so true than with the release of her sixth album Goodnight City.

After some electropop misfires on 2013’s Come Home to Mama, Goodnight City is less a clean slate and more an affirmation and culmination of Wainwright’s talent over the decade. Opting for the intimacy of close friends over the appeal of big names, her most recent album is an intensely personal affair. “These writers know me,” said Wainwright, commenting the six songs offered to her for Goodnight City. Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton and Glen Hansard’s contributions, among others, help to shape an intimate tapestry of songs that reflect on the experiences of Wainwright from the inside and out. 

Diving into the endless depths of familial love and adoration is where Wainwright finds her treasures. The melodic folk-rock of Franci reveals her role as both besotted mother and vivid storyteller, as she explains how her second son Francis, born in 2014, got his name. Window is the frantic struggle of a mother watching her son grow up and experience the world, straddling the line between overbearing and concerned. The singer’s ability to deconstruct her innermost thoughts into song has long been one of her most striking talents. 

This ability shines through even on the co-written tracks and contributions. Look Into My Eyes, co-written with her aunt Anna McGarrigle, is a dark pastiche of bubbling synth, moody sax and lyrics in both French and English. Folktronica pioneer Beth Orton gifted Wainwright the song Alexandria, which she sings with a haunting longing coupled with a stormy instrumental. 

She quietens things down with Before the Children Came Along, which emanates the warm, smoky charm of Edith Piaf. Country opener Around the Bend is classic Wainwright: ironic, frank and complemented by her carefree, uncontrolled vocals. Francis, written by her brother Rufus, is a piano-driven ballad that swells with both the love of mother and child, and the affection of brother and sister. 

Given the long list of contributors, the singularity and cohesion achieved in Goodnight City is something to be applauded. It is also solid evidence that Wainwright’s creative well has not run dry, but rather thrives upon the influence of others. Throughout her childhood Wainwright absorbed and was constantly surrounded by music, nurturing her faith in the power of collaborating and creating with others. The record captures this notion and more. As an artist who is at her best when sharing her secrets with the world, Wainwright would be wise to continue in this direction.