Rufus Wainwright: Take All My Loves (9 Shakespeare Sonnets)

If, like me, you love Rufus Wainwright and Shakespeare, then this album will make you very, very happy. If, however, you like neither Shakespeare nor Rufus, it’s probably not your cup of tea. This unique collection of Shakespearean sonnets set to theatrical rock music features guests Florence Welch, Martha Wainwright, Anna Prohaska, Si├ón Phillips, Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher and William Shatner. But the true stars are Rufus Wainwright and William Shakespeare.

The first two tracks are okay, but a somewhat lackluster start. The album truly begins with the dazzling title track, which is far more Rufus than the Bard.

The standout track is “Unperfect Actor,” in which Helena Bonham Carter gives brief poetic recitation before the song explodes into rock symphony featuring Martha Wainwright and Fiona Cutler.

Other highlights are “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” which is sang as a lovely ballad by Florence Welch, and Anna Prohaska’s operatic “Farewell.”

The album also features new, alternative versions of three sonnets Rufus originally recorded for his Songs for Lulu album: “When Most I Wink,” “For Shame” and “A Woman’s Face.”

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Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright: House of Rufus

Rufus Wainwright’s House of Rufus boxset was released by Universal Music on July 20th. The 19-disc set spans Rufus Wainwright’s entire career and is the most complete and extensive collection of his work to date: all 6 of his studio albums (with bonus material), 2 live CDs (with previously unreleased songs), 4 discs of previously unreleased songs, demos and rarities – including all of Rufus’ movie soundtrack recordings together on 1 CD, a collection of collaborations with friends and family members (including Leonard Cohen, The Pet Shop Boys, Rufus’ father, Loudon, and his sister, Martha), 6 DVDs of live performances and album commentary, and 2 feature-length documentaries.

Encased in a lush, red, velvet-covered, 90-page hardback book, the discs are accompanied by rare and previously unreleased photos, Rufus’ early hand-drawn tour posters, handwritten lyrics, four art prints and other memorabilia. The detailed liner notes also feature interviews with Neil Tennant, Martha Wainwright, Linda Thompson and Lenny Waronker as well as an introduction by Rufus himself. So you’re pretty much getting Rufus’ entire life and career all wrapped up in a pretty box…

First, the studio albums. House of Rufus contains all 6 of Rufus Wainwright’s studio releases: his self-titled debut, Poses, Want One, Want Two, Release the Stars and All Days Are Night: Songs for Lulu. And each album features previously unreleased bonus material.

Rufus Wainwright

I first bought Rufus Wainwright’s self-titled debut in the Poses era and was disappointed that it didn’t instantly captivate me as the followup album did. The debut is still my least favorite of the studio releases, but jaunty multi-instrumental wonders “April Fools” and “Beauty Mark,” the murky ballad “Barcelona,” the retro-pop choir rendition of “Goodnight Sweetheart” and the exotic whirl of “Matinee Idol” certainly make it a worthy addition to this grand collection.

The Original Demos bonus disc, the tape of which secured Rufus’ first record deal, features many of the same songs eventually recorded for Rufus Wainwright, in their raw, demo form. Sadly, though, the best song on the disc ended up on the cutting room floor of Rufus’ studio debut. “Keep Cool Fool” is a jazzy little ditty that shows off Rufus’ piano skills and hints at the more theatrical side of his personality that we’d all come to know and love through subsequent releases.

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Rufus Wainwright’s 2001 sophomore album, Poses, was selected for Muruch’s Classic Albums Appreciation Club. I enjoyed listening to it again so much that I was compelled to write a proper, in-depth album review, which I’ll repost here. Though it was a favorite of mine when it was first released in 2001, I hadn’t listened to Poses in several years. What a wonderful, unusual, consistently brilliant piece of art it is. I think it sounds even better today than it did when it was a newborn.

The opener of Poses, “Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk,” is still a charmer with its lyrical list of various vices and irresistible indulgences all wrapped up in a jaunty piano tune.

Despite its title, “Greek Song” has more of an Oriental style with lush piano snaking through the intricate, exotic arrangement beneath Rufus’ warm voice. The song was on nearly every mix CD I made in 2001 and remains my favorite on the album.

The title track dances in elegant circles, while the sensual downtempo beat of “Shadows” gently rises and falls with Rufus’ graceful falsetto.

Catchy, quirky “California” rattles, clinks, bounces and purrs a perfect pop melody replete with backing “oohs.”

Rufus’ melodic, wistful “Grey Gardens” predated the renewed interest in the reclusive Beale family stirred up by Drew Barrymore’s recent film. The song begins with a short audio clip from the 1975 documentary that inspired the film.

A gentle jazz pluck and rhythm floats through the slinky piano number “Rebel Prince,” and the sinister edge of “Evil Angel” is softened by lovely classical horns and strings.

“In A Graveyard” is a pure, pretty piano ballad that probably earned Rufus all those soundtrack covers that followed.

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Want One

Want One opens with the delicious hum, stomp and clang of “Oh What a World” – a modern classic covered by Sonos. “Movies of Myself” finds Rufus exploring a bigger pop band sound and he gets a little Elton John meets ELO (which I love) on “Go or Go Ahead.” The horn-adorned space circus “Beautiful Child” is another delight, but I do love Rufus’ low key, jazz piano croon best as in “Harvester of Hearts.”

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Want Two

The best of Want Two are the classical arrangement of “Little Sister,” the folk-influenced instrumentation of “Hometown Waltz” and the live performance of “Coeur De Parisienne.” Otherwise, the album doesn’t appeal to me as much as his other releases.

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Release The Stars

With the possible exception of Poses, Release The Stars is probably Rufus’ most commercially accessible album due to its pop sheen. Lyrically, however, it’s one of his more personal works and layers of brilliance lurk beneath the smooth surface. “Slideshow,” “Do I Disappoint” and the album’s brassy title track are the prime examples – each burst from a pretty but standard piano pop melody into a cacophony of vocals and instrumentation. The elegantly somber, Cohenesque ballad “Leaving for Paris No. 2” is another standout.

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All Days Are Night: Songs for Lulu

A concept album equally inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43, silent film star Louise Brooks and the death Rufus’ mother, Kate McGarrigle. Highlights are atmospheric French ballad “Les Feux D’Artifice T’Appellent,” the heartbreaking “Martha” – with its opening lyric “Martha, it’s your brother calling, time to go up north and see Mother, things are harder for her now” – and the crashing classical piano of “Sonnet 10” (wow, I’d love to hear Rufus try some Chopin) and “What Would I Ever Do With a Rose?”

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Next, the concert CDs: Milwaukee at Last!!! and the 2-disc Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, both also featuring previously unreleased songs from the respective shows.

Milwaukee at Last!!!

Recorded live at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater in August 2007, Milwaukee at Last! is one of my least favorites in the collection. But it isn’t a total loss. There’s another pretty version of “If Love Were All,” a fine rendering of the traditional “Macushla” and a splendidly horn-accented “Rules and Regulations.”

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Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall

Aside from Poses, this 2-disc live tribute to Judy Garland was my most anticipated part of the boxset. Recorded live at Carnegie Hall on June 14, 2006, backed by a 36-piece orchestra and arranged by Broadway composer Stephen Oremus (Wicked, Avenue Q), Rufus recreated Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 “The Greatest Show of All Time” concert song-for-song in its original venue.

I listened to the original Judy Garland album recently and I actually prefer many of Rufus’ covers to Judy’s, but that’s more due to my own preference for July’s earlier recordings to her latter cabaret work (aside from “The Man That Got Away,” nobody sings it like Judy) than the strength of Rufus’ album.

My personal favorites on this album are Rufus’ beautiful, melodic renditions of “A Foggy Day,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Over the Rainbow” (my all-time favorite song). His soaring vocals on “Alone Together”and “If Love Were All” and the torchy renderings of “Stormy Weather” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” by his sister, Martha Wainwright, are also highlights.

Sadly, many of the faster tempo songs (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Chicago,” “Get Happy,” “Just You, Just Me,” etc.) just aren’t flattering to his voice. The brassy, bombastic “Puttin on the Ritz” is the exception. And regardless of any weaknesses, I really respect the concept of recreating Judy’s concert, the good songs are really great, the instrumentation is impeccable throughout, and you can hear in Rufus’ voice how much the evening meant to him and also how much he enjoyed it.

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Also in the boxset are more discs of previously unreleased songs and rarities:

Rufus at the Movies features all of Rufus’ movie soundtrack songs, including “Hallelujah” from Shrek, The Beatles’ “Across The Universe” from I Am Sam, “Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered” from The History Boys, “Complainte de la Butte” Moulin Rouge, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” from The Aviator and, of course, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” from Zoolander. His deadpan take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” falls flat compared to the original or the Jeff Buckley and Allison Crowe versions, but then those are lofty heights to climb for anyone. Otherwise, I love this collection.

Friends & Family is a collection of collaborations with Leonard Cohen, Antony, Joan Wasser, Rufus’ father, Loudon, his sister, Martha and many more. Rufus’ live acoustic cover of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” and his live tango version of “Everybody Knows” are among my favorite versions of the Leonard Cohen classics. The moody pairing of “To America” with Joan Wasser (of Joan as Policewoman) and “What Can I Do” with Anthony Hegarty (of Anthony of the Johnsons) are also stand out tracks. Rufus and Kate McGarrigle harmonize as only a mother and son could in the folk ballad “Lowlands Away” from Rogue’s Gallery and his sister Martha joins them for “What’ll I Do.” His plucky duet of “Tired of Wasting Time” with Sloan Wainwright shows his folk music roots.

Rufus Rarities seems a bit uneven due to the hodge podge nature of the disc, but it does feature the slinky, bluesy number “A Bit of You,” quaking “In With The Ladies,” a lovely croon of “Miss Otis Regrets” and a fantastic plucky take on “St. James Infirmary.”

There will also be 6 DVDs in the set (I was only given music to review) – Live at Fillmore, Rufus Does Judy at the London Palladium, Milwaukee at Last!!!, and a Release The Stars album commentary and live performance – and the 2 feature-length documentaries All I Want and Prima Donna, the Making of An Opera.

As much as I loved Poses, I always thought before that a little bit of Rufus went a long way. But this new box set rekindled my joyful enthusiasm for Rufus Wainwright’s music, immensely increased my appreciation of his talent and artistry, and left me in awe of the sheer amount of work he’s done in the past decade.

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Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright Official Site

Jon Regen: Let It Go Mp3

NYC singer-songwriter and pianist Jon Regen is one of the few artists to email me lately that I actually like. His song “Let It Go” has a bluesy acoustic sound. The tune is the title track from his new album, which features Martha Wainwright and Andy Summers of The Police among others.

Jon Regen – Let It Go (mp3 expired)

Jon Regen Official Site
Jon on MySpace

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The Heavy Circles

The Heavy Circles is singer-songwriter Edie Brickell’s new project, a joint effort with guitarist Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon). The band’s all-star debut self-titled album will be released on February 12th. Their sound is a pop, rock, blues, indie, avant garde, reggae, and alt-country blend. Though there are certain retro elements in the songs, the sound is quite different and much more modern than Edie’s old neo-hippie outfit New Bohemians. The album features guests Martha Wainwright, Inara George, Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hitori, Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields and Lovage, That Dog’s Anna Waronker, and Joan As Police Woman‘s Joan Wasser among others.

I received the The Heavy Circles debut in the mail, listened to and loved it, and didn’t realize who was behind the catchy tunes until I read the press release while writing this review. Edie Brickell never fails to make music I enjoy, even when experimenting with new genres like this.

The opener “Henri” has a hypnotic, psychedelic rock arrangement beneath Edie’s ethereal whisper. The track features former Elysian Fields and Lovage vocalist Jennifer Charles, and would not have been out of place on last year’s Plant/Krauss collaboration Raising Sand.

“Better” and “Ready to Play” follow in a perkier pop style accented with crunchy guitar riffs. “Confused” slows down into a semi-ballad with soft percussion and a pretty piano ascension. “Need A Friend” has a surprising twist of reggae and brass. And despite the natural mildness of Edie’s voice, “Dynamite Child” is pure rock.

Martha Wainwright sings on languid blues tune “Easier”, while Inara George and former That Dog vocalist Anna Waronker lends her voice to the dreamy “Maximo”. Sean Lennon plays bass on both tracks. Joan Wasser contributes to the string arrangements on several tracks and performs a violin solo in “Wait & Wait”. And Cibo Matto’s Miho Hitori sings on the finale “Oh Darling”.

The Heavy Circles – Henri (mp3)

The Heavy Circles Official Site

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Soundtrack: Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man

The soundtrack to the documentary Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man features classic songs written by Leonard Cohen performed live during a concert called “Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening Of Leonard Cohen Songs”. Among the performers are Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Antony (of the Johnsons), Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, and Mr. Cohen himself with U2. There aren’t many songwriters like Leonard Cohen, and this collection of covers is a grand encomium to his enormous talent.

Martha Wainwright starts it up with a throaty, wailing rendition of “Tower of Song”. Nick Cave churns out a swaggering cabaret of “I’m Your Man”. Kate & Anna McGarrigle join Martha Wainwright to form an angelic choir on “Winter Lady”.

While I prefer Serena Ryder‘s more melodic interpretation of “Sisters Of Mercy”, Beth Orton gives an earnestly solemn performance of it here. Though “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” are my favourite Cohen songs, it’s “Sisters of Mercy” that contains my best-loved Leonard lyric – “if your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”.

I was pleasantly surprised by Rufus Wainwright’s semisweet rendering of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. If only he showed off that astounding vocal range more often. Speaking of astounding voices, I truly believe that Antony‘s quivering voice could fill any song with depth and heartache. His cover of “If It Be Your Will” is no exception.

The Handsome Family take on “Famous Blue Raincoat” isn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the original or even the cover by Tori Amos. Rufus Wainwright’s nasal performance on “Everybody Knows” could neither compete with the Cohen version nor the Concrete Blonde cover, but the new arrangement is saucy enough to keep it interesting.

Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen give a soulful presentation of “Anthem” before the bottomless voice of the man himself Leonard Cohen is paired with the electronic pop-rock of U2 for the finale “Tower Of Song”.

Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man Official Site
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