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In Brief: Rufus Wainwright and Emmylou Harris

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Rufus Wainwright
Want One (DreamWorks).

Commercials for Rufus Wainwright’s new disc have been running constantly during episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the juxtaposition of his wheezily nasal, jaundiced-sounding voice against the show’s chipper, consumerist version of gay life is enough to make me root for the success of the album despite its flaws. Perhaps I came predisposed to like Want One because the song that’s played during the Queer Eye spot is “Oh What a World,” one of the album’s best. It’s full of strikingly funny lines (“Life is beautiful on the New York Times”) and a chorus that perfectly captures the spoiled-kid nature of Wainwright himself: “Oh, what a world my parents gave me,” he drawls, only half sarcastically. The rest of Want One (excluding the magnificent “Go or Go Ahead” and “Vibrate,” which contains this killer couplet: “Electroclash is karaoke, too / My phone’s on vibrate for you”) isn’t nearly as ambitious or as strange. It’s a shame, since Wainwright’s powers of observation recall both Morrissey and Cole Porter. I’m pulling for him anyway; what a world it would be if this fey, hypersmart former crystal-meth addict triumphed over the image adjusters and interior decorators.

Emmylou Harris
Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch).

Johnny Cash’s death reminded us how few voices are left that carry any weight, soul, or history. Emmylou Harris possesses such a voice, and it makes her new album matter, despite the sparse production. Unlike her recent work, Stumble Into Grace is made up solely of Harris’s work—love songs like “Can You Hear Me Now” that perfectly suit her voice, which is sweet and whispery yet never sentimental. And when Harris is paired with, say, Jane Siberry, the melodies she is so adept at creating alone become divine, the sound of voices truly intertwined. Much of Stumble Into Grace seems otherworldly, right up to the CD’s cover, which shows her in a gauzy dress, her hair now a beyond-gray, angelic white. But Harris, like Cash before her, is too earthy to fully embrace the heavens. It’s her vulnerability that gives her music its meaning.


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