The family gene is alive and well across this debut album.
Colin Irwin 2011
Lucy Wainwright Roche is a very different creature to her more celebrated half-siblings, Rufus and Martha Wainwright. Loudon Wainwright’s daughter by singer Suzzy Roche, she has none of the extravagant flamboyance associated with the family, adopting a rather more coy, introspective and wholly less-brazen approach both in song and delivery.
A teacher-turned-singer, she’s clearly inherited her father’s way with words and her mother’s quirky nonchalance, and there’s no questioning her alluring potential as a songwriter (the whimsical Early Train is very reminiscent of her mother’s group, The Roches). She’s particularly strong on the detail as she sings about matters of the heart: The Worst Part is a tenderly compelling take on a break-up, while the heart-tugging memories evoked and temptations examined on the best track Statesville are underlined by a delicious melody and chorus. Accident & Emergency, meanwhile, is a quaintly meandering and slightly sinister observational account of a visit to a London hospital.
All well and good, then, except there’s a diffidence about her that makes this lo-fi acoustic album full of travel songs sound almost apologetic. Simplistic arrangements and downbeat material like Mercury News and Open Season reinforce the album’s overriding sense of melancholia, casting the artist as forlorn victim who sounds wide-eyed and stranded on a journey on which she’s lost her road map. Its low-key arrangements are fleetingly lifted by guest appearances by both parents, but the album’s dominant acoustic shroud merely emphasises the limitations of her slightly squeaky voice. Indeed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the best tracks are her respectful covers of one of Paul Simon’s best songs, America (due in no small part to The Roches on back-up vocals) and the bonus track of Elliott Smith’s Say Yes, on which she duets with Ira Glass.
She has charm in abundance, and the tantalising glimpses of killer tunes and occasionally sharp lyrics suggest the family gene is alive and well, and once she has fully assimilated the storyteller’s art she’ll make a great album. When she does you imagine she’ll look back on this plaintive debut with a rueful smile.