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Pop album reviews: Martha Wainwright, Arizona Dranes

January 01, 2013
  • Martha Wainright's "Come Home to Mama."
Martha Wainright's "Come Home to Mama." (Cooperative Music )

A couple of albums from 2012 we missed . . .

Martha Wainwright

"Come Home to Mama"

(V2/Cooperative Music)

Three stars

At No. 11 on my (and, I suspect, many others') 10 best albums of 2012 list is "Out of the Game," Rufus Wainwright's funny, funky collaboration with producer Mark Ronson. But if "Out of the Game" got a bit lost in the Frank-and-Fiona shuffle, it at least made a bigger splash than the latest from Wainwright's younger sister Martha, who like Rufus was born to the urbane folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III.

McGarrigle died in early 2010, weeks after Martha became a mother herself, and that's the experience she recounts on "Come Home to Mama," a powerful set of songs — including the last one written by McGarrigle — released to minimal fanfare in mid-October. It's worth your attention now: In eloquently rendered tunes such as "Leave Behind" and "Everything Wrong," Martha ponders the intricacies of life and death with the kind of clear-eyed honesty we rarely get from someone as close to them as she still is.

And working with producer Yuka Honda (of Cibo Matto), she makes her music move like it never has before, as in the swaggering "Radio Star" and the horn-enriched soul-rock of "Can You Believe It?" Even McGarrigle's "Proserpina," a hushed piano ballad about the ancient goddess of springtime, oozes a humid sensuality.

— Mikael Wood

GRAPHIC: Times music staff best of 2012 list

Arizona Dranes

"He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes"

(Tompkins Square)

Three stars

Dranes was a blind gospel singer and pianist from Texas whose recordings surveyed here from the 1920s and '30s remained little known before this release, even among gospel enthusiasts. "Perhaps that's because she always listed her occupation as missionary or evangelist — not musician — and looked the part," writes journalist and historian Michael Corcoran in a 48-page booklet accompanying the 16-track CD.

Dranes, Corcoran argues convincingly, was the first musician to make gospel recordings using piano and, more significantly, the first to bring the electrifying performance style of the Pentecostal church into the recording studio. She influenced subsequent generations of musicians, including the widely acknowledged "father of gospel music" Thomas Dorsey as well as early rockers such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go," she invokes a penetrating vocal rasp that informs gospel, blues and R&B singing today. Many of the recordings feature only Dranes, her piano and her high, quavering voice, but several include accompaniment from other musicians. The audio quality is predictably primitive, but Dranes' spirit comes through undistorted by time.

— Randy Lewis

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