Martha Wainwright
Martha Wainwright sings Piaf
The Great Hall - Toronto - Part of Toronto Jazz Festival
June 25th, 2010

Report and photographs by Tom Sekowski

It's apparent Martha Wainwright grew up in a household where Edith Piaf's songs were played on a regular basis. Her parents - Anna McGarrigle and Louden Wainwright III - were musicians and her older brother Rufus is a musical legend on his own terms. No surprise then that after much corralling from producer Hal Willner, Martha agreed to record "Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris - Martha Wainwright's Piaf Record". Not having heard the record, arriving at The Great Hall, I had no clue what to expect. Would Martha belt out the tunes with spunk or would she be more subtle? Would she use her sexuality to steer the show or would she allow the lyrics of Piaf's songs to carry the show alone? In the past, Martha has admitted to her fascination with Edith's music, "Edith Piaf was a favourite singer of mine when I was a kid. Aged 7 or 8, my brother Rufus and I would belt out her songs, particularly Milord, at the tops of our voices. I don't know why maybe it's that emotive singing voice of hers, that sense of complete vocal abandon. That's very appealing to a child. It seemed so elemental and raw. My appreciation of her has remained a constant."

Lucky for all present, the show was full of hymns, laughter and tears. Martha is not one to take things seriously at all times, which adds a nice flavor to the proceedings. She would joke about the G-20 Summit which was just getting underway downtown - "Let's have our own little picnic". She would take sips of vodka that her band members offered to her. She was flirting with the crowd, the way she has done so frequently in her music. Piaf's songs have rarely sounded this convincing. When she sang "Adieu Mon Coeur", she wasn't simply singing it, she gave it new life. Her voice - often chirpy and coarse, gave the song a whole different interpretation. There was feeling galore. Pain was evident on many of the numbers, but so were joy and an exuberant take on things. Martha admitted the French she speaks is Quebec-based and she had some worry when recording these songs. None of this matters as interpretations were so flawless, when I closed my eyes; I swore I was looking at Edith. For those that weren't fluent French speakers, Martha provided a brief explanation of the song's lyrical content.

Her band was fantastic. Though I didn't catch the band-member's names, I can tell you the guitarist added bluesy accompaniment, while the bassist set the rhythmic pattern. The pianist kept a steady melodic underpinning that was bounced off Martha's resounding vocal chords. For encore, she performed a couple of her mom's songs - as a tribute to her great work. She made no qualms in admitting her mom helped her pick the songs for the record. To finish off an already perfect night, she threw a real treat down to us in the form of "Stormy Weather". The way she twisted those phrases, and threw colorful nuances, made my hair stand at attention. I would call this going out on a high point. Blissful memories remain and truth be told, Martha Wainwright was the next best thing to having Edith sing these songs. In fact, she could pass for her twin sister.

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>> Martha Wainwright - Martha Wainwright sings Piaf - The Great Hall - Toronto - Part of Toronto Jazz Festival, June 25th, 2010
+ William Basinski, Neil Wiernik - The Music Gallery - Toronto, June 12th, 2010