June 6, 2008

Stepping Out of Daddy’s Dark Shadow

By WARD, Nick

Martha Wainwright - I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (Shock)

Poor Martha. As the daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and sister of Rufus, she's been a party to her family's very public mauling of daddy's shortcomings as a parent. Thankfully, it's something she steers clear of on her second album, as she steps out of their shadow.

Wainwright's semi-acoustic soft rock songs alternate between pining for old lovers (Bleeding All Over You, Comin' Tonight) and confronting new ones (Jesus and Mary, Hearts Club Band), but the bitchiness is used sparingly, to avoid any hint of wallowing in woe.

What really impresses are her beautifully expressive, husky vocals, which knead the emotion out of the lyrics and are given enough space by her bandmates, who include friends like Pete Townshend, Donald Fagen and brother Rufus. The album's only drawback is two blah covers, of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play and Eurythmics' Love Is A Stranger.

Sharing your family feuds with the world is so self-indulgent. Here, Wainwright proves she's better than that. - B+

Steve Abel and the Chrysalids - Flax Happy (Kin'sland)

Steve Abel was one of Greenpeace NZ's main men before he forsook activism to pursue his musical dreams. He specialises in what might be called Kiwi Gothic folk-rock, unleashed two years ago on his debut album, Little Death.

Abel has the look of a grizzled troubadour from colonial times, and sounds like one, while his band comprises some heavyweight talent in Geoff Maddock (Goldenhorse), Gareth Thomas (Goodshirt) and Pluto's Milan Borich and Mike Hall.

Flax Happy picks up where Little Death left off. Abel invokes blood, fire and sin, but also softer stuff like native flora and fauna on the "nature boy" tale Haven. Sad Girls actually celebrates the said ladies, while Gone is an excellent use of a familiar song title.

Abel duets with Anika Moa in te reo on Pin of Love (Ka Pinea Koe) but makes a better match with Jolie Holland on Cinders of the Sun and Heart of Misery. Deborah is a short, sweet, swinging love song.

Whether you'll like this depends on your tolerance for downbeat stuff about chewing on love's tough side. But the musicianship and lyrics are solid throughout, and Holland and Moa add extra texture to songs that are dark but full of vulnerability. - B

The Nothing - A Warm Gun (A Major)

Kiwi cult hero Chris Knox recently sprang a surprise when he began working with a band for the first time since his days with the legendary Toy Love a quarter of a century before.

The Nothing's self-titled debut album confirmed once and for all that he is one of the nation's foremost craftsmen of pop tunes - it's just that until now, they've often been concealed by his penchant for DIY tape loops, fuzzed-out guitar and other assorted noises.

The follow-up (whose title betrays his abiding love of the Beatles) shoots out of the blocks with All I Want Is You, with Knox leaving the band behind at one point in his eagerness to get on with things.

In My Heart is a vintage Knox love song, using simple elements to good effect, while (Going To) Pieces and Driftwood show his gift for melody and vocal harmonies.

There are familiar Knox bits, like doo-wop rhythm (Out of the Abyss), and unfamiliar ones, like bluegrass fiddle (She's Leaving Him), but his notorious venom is never far away, such as in the pro- slacker Song of the Tall Poppy.

Fans of Knox's spare-bedroom creations will find even more to like here, while those who have written him off as a DIY noisemaker have a chance to appreciate the depth behind the clatter. - B

Albums supplied by Checkers Records

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