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Monday, December 02, 2013

A great record the out of touch are digging

The Mcgarrigle Hour's one of my favourite records. It came out in 1998. The idea was to reunite some of the team who made that first McGarrigle sisters record in 1975 (that's Kate and Anna plus producer Joe Boyd and engineer John Wood) and add musicians from the next generation of their family, such as Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and finally to conjure some of the spirit of the family musical evenings the sisters knew when they were young.

The songs range from familiar originals like Loudon Wainwright's "Schooldays" and Anna's "Cool Cool River" through their mother's parlour party piece "Alice Blue Gown" and "Baltimore Fire", the traditional song Kate and Anna used to sing on the Portobello Road in 1971, to Martha's perfect version of Cole Porter's "Allez-Vous En".

It ought to be precious. It isn't. All the songs pack some surprise. Great songs are always surprising. The most pleasant surprise of all is the power of family harmony, even when that's previously been confined to the recording studio or the concert stage. As Jane McGarrigle says in the sleeve notes, when Kate, Loudon, Rufus and Martha sing Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do", they've "never sat down to a Christmas turkey together, let along sung a song". Nevertheless, as she says "they come together as natural as breathing". And they do.

I pulled it out today. It's drinking well on these cold winter afternoons. When people ask me what new music I'm listening to I go blank. If it helps you could pretend this is new. After all, as Harry Truman said, "the only new thing in the world is the history you don't know".