10/17/2012 09:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Martha Wainwright: If You're Looking for Comfort ... Flee Now

In the mood for some over-the-top emotion?

Try this.

Kate McGarrigle was dying, and she knew it. But she loved Christmas and the family holiday concerts that raised money for cancer research, so she willed herself on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the 2009 benefit. Flanked by her son Rufus and her very pregnant daughter Martha, she sang a song she'd written for them --- the last song she'd ever write.

"We all knew it would be her last concert," Martha has said. "My mother wrote that song with one foot in the world she was heading to, and with the full knowledge of where she was going."

That song was "Proserpina." Its inspiration was a Roman myth, a story of spring. Its refrain: "Come home to mother, come home to mama now."

Two months later, Martha was a mother and her mother was gone.

And now we have Martha's CD, Come Home to Mama.

"I recorded it at a time when I thought, in some way, if I could just sing like her, and if I closed my eyes and I conjured it up enough, that maybe when I opened them she would be back in the room," Wainwright told an interviewer. "It was one of those stages of disbelief at the beginning, when someone has died. I sang it like she sang it, because who would want to change that?"

There's a video of "Proserpina." It was recorded in a single take. It is, without question, the most powerful piece of theater I've seen this year.

"Proserpina" is the only song on the CD that Martha didn't write. But in its emotional transparency, it's representative of the other nine songs. And a worthy successor to her CD of songs by that great heart tugger, Edith Piaf. Be warned: this CD flays you. Spares you nothing. If you're looking for aural comfort food, flee now.

Sample lyrics? "Can You Believe It?" starts with this: "I really like the make-up sex/ It's the only kind I ever get." And goes on to declare: "As I get angrier, I get older/ I have fewer and fewer to complain to/ So I built a ship of shit and directed it at you."

And that's a love song!

Wainwright, who posed naked for the cover photo, is unapologetic: "I'm trying to create something that's interesting and moving for other people, so I go farther in my lyrics than a lot of people would. I have a tendency to exaggerate things. The moment I'm inspired to write a song might be a low point, but that's just a low point. It's not the whole story."

The whole story, on this basis of this CD, is flawed. Uneven. A song of beauty and melody and genius is juxtaposed with a song that sounds to me a lot like discordant noise. That's the price you pay with Martha Wainwright. The price she knowingly makes you pay. This is, after all, a woman who made a CD she titled I Know You're Married But I Have Feelings Too.

I wouldn't want to meet Martha Wainwright in a bad mood late at night in a rainy alley, but from this distance... Lord, I love her.

[Re-posted from]