Album Review: Rufus Wainwright, ‘Folkocracy’

Rufus Wainwright turns 50 on July 22, and what better way to celebrate with an album that’s a tribute the folk music that’s shaped him.

In the spirit of folk music, Wainwright gathers members of his own family—sisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, aunt Anna McGarrigle, cousin Lily Lanken—and his extended family of musicians—including Madison Cunningham, Brandi Carlile, Susanna Hoffs, Chris Stills, Andrew Bird, and Van Dyke Parks, among many others—to join him in delivering versions of folk classics this gorgeous soundscape.

The setting of many of the songs on the album is spare, allowing the gravity or the fragility or elation of the lyrics to saturate the soul. Cunningham joins Wainwright on the meditative version of Ewan MacColl’s “Alone,” conveying the mournful character of the original, while Cunningham and John Legend join Wainwright on “Heading for Home,” an orchestral ode to the pleasures and pain of coming home in which banjo plunks alternate with soaring strings. Hoffs, Sheryl Crow, and Chris Stills join in on the upbeat version of John Phillips’ “Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)”; Wainwright’s version captures the joy and innocence of Laurel Canyon.

In the poignant murder ballad “Down in the Willow Garden,” Carlile and Wainwright evoke the tender sorrow, aching regret, and pensive melancholy embedded in love and loss. Andrew Bird’s old-time violin leads off Wainwright’s version of Neil Young’s “Harvest,” a lilting, spacious take that features Greg Leisz’s unfurling lap steel runs and Bird’s and Chris Stills’ harmonies. ANOHNI joins Wainwright on a poignant reworking of Wainwright’s own “Going to a Town,” while his sisters Martha and Lucy lend their voices to the gyspy music-inflected of the traditional lullaby “Hush Little Baby.”

The album closes with a stirring take on the traditional “Wild Mountain Thyme,” on which Wainwright shares vocals with his sisters, cousin, aunt, and close family friend Chaim Tannenbaum. It’s almost anthemic and a fitting close to an album that celebrates a community, family, and folk music.

Folkocracy is a fitting birthday gift for Wainwright to give to himself, and it’s a multi-faceted little musical gem to give to his fans to open as they celebrate with him and his membership in this long line of folk musicians, the “folkocracy.”


Folkocracy is available HERE.


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