Rufus Wainwright release is lush, timeless |

Rufus Wainwright release is lush, timeless

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado
Singer-Songwriter Rufus Wainwright performs a benefit concert for The Buddy Program Jan. 10, 2008 at Belly Up Aspen. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” The idea of Rufus Wainwright as a sentimental nostalgist is not the first thing that comes to mind upon listening to “Release the Stars.” The album, which came out last May, is full of modern forms of anxiety.

The first line asks, “Do I disappoint you,” and the question is repeated through the song. On the next track, the 34-year-old singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist raises the weariness factor by registering a complaint against the current state of the United States: “I’m so tired of America,” he sings, convincingly, as he describes the moral fall of the country in near-apocalyptic tones.

The sonic landscape of “Release the Stars” is similarly free of old-fashioned sentiments. Samples and loops join orchestrated strings and horns, and on a song like the sensual “Between My Legs,” the effect seems intended for the dance floor of a hip, urban club.

Despite those up-to-date expressions, Wainwright betrays his affection for old-fashioned sounds and emotions all over “Release the Stars.” On the slow, yearning “Not Ready to Love,” the strings, performed by the London Session Orchestra, are largely divorced from a contemporary setting. “Leaving for Paris No. 2,” set to a stripped backing of vocals, piano and bass, invokes the traditional romantic quality of the city, even if it is a kiss-off song.

Nowhere, though, does Wainwright’s nostalgic side come through more than in his embrace of melody. No matter the instrumentation or the emotional quality, Wainwright never breaks from lush, swooping, affecting melodicism that gives his music the brush of timelessness. It links him not only with the writers of the Great American Songbook, but also the Beatles and classic opera.

Wainwright’s attraction to memories and sounds past are fully revealed in his other 2007 album. It ranks with the most nostalgic musical endeavors ever.

“Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall,” released in November, is a live recording of his June 2006 concert at Carnegie Hall, in which Wainwright reproduced, song-for-song, Judy Garland’s famed 1961 show at the same venue (a show attended by Wainwright’s grandparents, Martha and Loudon Wainwright II).

Aside from some campy between-song humor, Wainwright puts little contemporary spin on the material; instead, he gives a big and sloppy kiss to the material. The performances celebrate not only the great mid-20th century songwriters ” Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and more ” but also the mid-20th century idea of America itself, chock-full of straightforward love songs. Each of the discs in the two-CD set ends with a love letter to a great American city: “San Francisco” on the first, “Chicago” on the second.

It’s a long way from there to “I’m So Tired of America.” Wainwright made the journey in less than a year’s time.

For his next act, Wainwright goes operatic. He has been commissioned to compose an opera ” “Prima Donna,” about a day in the life of an opera singer ” by New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

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