Throughout his illustrious 16-year career to date, Rufus Wainwright has seen and done it all. He’s released seven studio albums, accrued a passionate following from fans the world over and in the last few years, has been faced with some of the heavier aspects of adulthood: In 2010/11, he lost his mother (Canadian folk legend Kate McGarrigle) and he and his partner Jörn Weisbrodt, became fathers for the first time with the assistance of fellow Canadian music royal Lorca Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s daughter). After a few quiet years adjusting to this next phase of life, Rufus has just released his fourth live album Live From The Artists Den showing that even though he’s Out Of The Game, like he told us on his last album, he’s not out for the count just yet.
Live From The Artists Den is a long-running institution on US television network PBS with a focus on artists performing in unorthodox settings, making for a completely unique live experience for every artist featured and their audience. Wainwright is no exception as his installment was shot and recorded at the Episcopalian Church of Ascension in New York’s hub of all creativity, Greenwich Village. From the chilling a-capella opening track Candles, it’s obvious that this is the perfect setting for someone like Rufus. Like all his records, it’s grand, opulent and historically aware and as with anything with the Wainwright name attached, it sounds like absolutely nothing else.
The setlist errs pretty heavily towards his most recent studio effort, 2012’s Out Of The Game (10 of the 16 tracks are pulled from it) so surely some fans will find this somewhat disappointing from a man with such a deep repertoire from which to choose. This being said, not for a second can Live From The Artists Den be accused of a narrow field of vision or being a one trick pony.
This 16-track collection showcases the always-impressive depth and breadth of Rufus’ unparalleled musicality. There’s everything from solo cabaret, like the aching tale of first love The Art Teacher from 2004’s Want Two to ornate baroque pop in the form of a beautiful rendition of The One You Love from the same record. There’s a bombastic Broadway feel on the second track Rashida and even huge ‘80s synth pop on closer Bitter Tears featuring producer Mark Ronson on guitar. All of these turns are underpinned by a deep classical understanding (he’s currently in the process of writing his second opera) and make for a rich, colourful and diverse album. The fact that the man himself and his incredible band pull off such a spectacle live onstage makes Live From The Artists Den even more impressive.
The two cover songs on the record are definitely worth noting. One from his mother; the beautiful piano of the smoky jazz-club sounding On My Way To Town and One Man Guy, a lovely Laurel Canyon folk outing rich in harmony from his father Loudon Wainwright III (Some might remember Loudon as Jay Baruchel’s bumbling father Hal from Judd Apatow’s short lived cult series Undeclared).
With a Best-Of compilation also doing the promotional rounds at the moment, potential converts are spoiled for choice over where to begin their journey into the wonderful world of Rufus Wainwright. Overall, Live From The Artists Den serves a great cross-section of both Rufus’ jarringly honest and detailed songwriting and his consummate professionalism as a performer. I mean, that voice…