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From Weill to Hedwig to Ohio
Rufus Wainwright’s new CD and tour is quirky and baroque
It almost seems like a concoction that the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth might brew: A bi-national singer-songwriter, a dash of Weill, a pinch of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a splash of Pet Shop Boy, all stewed in a stout German beer, served hot in Columbus, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Cryptic references aside, it’s very openly gay musician Rufus Wainwright, touring in support of his latest album, Release the Stars.
The scion of Quebecois folk musician Kate McGarrigle and U.S. singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus and his sister Martha, who released an album last year, were doomed to be musicians. And if genius is a curse, Rufus may be struck by lightning at any time.
Release the Stars features a dozen tracks, most of which are heavily orchestral, at times seeming like a fevered Kurt Weill dream, other times with the insouciance of Stephen Trask and James Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig.
The latter comes out especially strong in “Between My Legs,” one man’s attempt to get into another’s pants on the eve of the apocalypse. It’s never really explained what disaster is about to befall them, but if it gets him laid, more power to him.
“That’s more of a fantasy . . . about reality,” Wainwright told Michael Barclay in the summer 2007 issue of Magnet, a too-cool-for-school music magazine that could expand the cultural awareness of the heppest of hep-cats. “I take something that’s obviously going to happen--i.e., a terrorist attack or environmental disaster--and turn it into a hook to seduce a young man and offer him safe haven.”
“I’m hoping to try this out when the world ends, to have some sort of exit plan for a stripper I met once,” he concluded.
The slickest feature of “Between My Legs” is the spoken-word bit at the end by Siân Phillips, best known for her roles as Empress Livia in I, Claudius and the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother in Dune--a voice like aristocratic nails raking down your spinal column, a voice to be obeyed.
Despite the heavily classical elements in the album, there’s a touch of Julia Migenes’ set of Gershwin standards, a blending of worlds.
The final, titular track on the album is a jazzy tune, but once again sung in Wainwright’s signature half-whine, while “Tulsa” sounds almost like it snuck out of a light opera.
The penultimate song, “Sanssouci,” is the only one that exhibits any noticeable influence from the album’s executive producer, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a far poppier track than the others, almost begging for an adult contemporary station to play it, yet somehow still enjoyable.
Of course, according to Wainwright, an executive producer is mostly an advisor, “like Karl Rove.” And if there is a flair of the foreign to the album, being recorded in Germany may have added to that air.
In addition to the fairly mellow magic potion that is Release the Stars, next month heralds the CD and DVD release of Wainwright’s recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 come-back concert at Carnegie Hall, which he then took on the road.
Before that, however, Wainwright will perform in Columbus on August 23 at Lifestyles Pavilion and on August 24 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, about a half-hour from Toledo.
Tickets and more information about the Columbus show is available at www.promowestlive.com, while the Ann Arbor show can be found at www.michtheater.org.
For both shows, bands Magic Numbers and A Fine Frenzy will open.