Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle

Fri, Jun 21, 2013, 00:00


Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Work of Kate McGarrigle

Various Artists


Singer / Songwriter

This is a double tribute album to the late great Canadian roots singer-songwriter, who died from cancer in 2010. But it’s a tribute with a difference.

The “various artists” are her son and daughter Rufus and Martha Wainwright, her sister Anna, friends such as Emmylou Harris, Peggy Seeger, Sloan Wainwright (younger sister of Kate’s ex-husband Loudon) and Richard and Linda Thompson. And then there are the children, including Teddy Thompson and Lilly Lanken (Anna’s daughter), and friends such as Antony Hegarty, Jenni Muldaur and Norah Jones.

It’s a wake of sorts, full of laughter and tears, memories and reminders. The house is big and it’s full. In fact, there are three houses – in London, New York and Toronto – but veteran producer Joy Boyd, who curated the shows, moulds the recording into a powerful exhibition of sustained catharsis and wonderful singing.

Rufus and Martha, in particular, imbue their mother’s legacy with complex layers of meaning. It cannot have been easy to stand in front of an audience and revisit these timeless, often raw dispatches from the frontline of romance, many inspired by their parents’ relationship, but both take it head on.

Together they deliver two remarkable duets, the hidden gem that is I Am a Diamond (see video on the Nonesuch website) and First Born, the song written for Rufus’s arrival. Solo they are no less impressive. The versions of Southern Boys, Matapedia and Tell My Sister typify the emotions at play and how they impact on songs we thought we knew.

In a live album of 34 tracks, there is clutter and the odd mistake, but the music is never maudlin or mawkish. And while the old folks keep their end up, it’s the children who ensure this tribute is worthy of its subject. Poignant moments abound, none more so than when Kate’s recorded tremulous voice segues into Sloan and Martha Wainwright’s stirring reading of the haunting Proserpina, one of Kate’s last compositions.

The sense of the torch being passed is palpable.
Download: Proserpina, I Am a Diamond, Walking Song