Rufus Wainwright “Folkocracy”

BMG, 2023

Star studded folk duets album delivers a polished sound.

We don’t know for certain if he’s zipping up his boots, but ‘Folkocracy’ certainly sees musical polymath Rufus Wainwright returning to his roots.   The son of Loudon and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright was destined to spend a lot of time hearing a variety of folk, whether at home or on endless summers of folk festivals.  It was an early indoctrination into a rich tapestry of music that Rufus Wainwright acknowledges as the inspiration for this album of covers of traditional, “modern folk” and a few “outliers”.  It’s also something of a celebration as he, as he puts it, “hurtles towards fifty.”  As part of that feeling of a celebration of a notable life milestone Rufus Wainwright has also recruited some special guests – a lot of special guest: Brandi Carlile, John Legend, Chaka Khan, David Byrne, Anohni, Sheryl Crow, Susanna Hoffs, Chris Stills, Nicole Scherzinger and Van Dyke Parks all appear, alongside family members Anna McGarrigle and Martha and Lucy Wainwright.

The definition of folk is thrown quite wide – so there’s around the campfire version of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest‘ alongside lovely readings of American folk classics like ‘Shenandoah‘ as well as a little Schubert.  A broad definition.  The murder ballad ‘Down in the Willow Gardens‘ is a spine-tingling tale of psychopathic murder without remorse  sung as an acoustic duet with Brandi Carlile.  The gem of the whole album is the version of Peggy Seeger’s ‘Heading For Home‘ – this initially rings alarm bells as it opens fully orchestrated, but it soon give way to a simpler banjo accompaniment and when John Legend intones “My face to the sky / My back to the wind / Winter is entering my bones / The day has been long and night’s drawing in / And I’m thinking of heading for home” it’s too beautiful for words.  He is, it transpires, the perfect duetting partner for Rufus Wainwright and they make wonderful play of the duality of the song – on the one hand the feel of a walk in the mountains or some similar terrain coming to a natural end and the plain metaphor for a life playing out and drawing to the end.  It is perfection.

Not everything works as wonderfully – ‘Arthur McBride‘ as a slow ballad with Rufus Wainwright singing solo to a sparse piano accompaniment is pretty enough, but saps the energy of the song even when it picks up the pace a little – there’s a reason that all the other versions you know have a hard pace and an aggressive feel to them.  It’s a song about sarcastically rejecting the Kings Shilling and breaking the heads of the recruiting party in order to make the point – it is a fine song but pretty it is not.  And the take on ‘Twelve Thirty (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon)‘ is almost indistinguishable from The Mamas and The Papas original – it sounds great, of course, but one may as well be listening to the original.  But for every such there is a ‘Hush Little Baby‘, sung with sister Martha and half sister Lucy Wainwright Roche which swings with a slight sense of menace in a Decemberists style.  Overall it’s an album that anyone interested in American folk idiom of the last half century filtered through Rufus Wainwright’s undoubted talent as an arranger will want to hear, and more than once.


About Jonathan Aird 2779 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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Mervyn Parry

It would be worth mentioning Madison Cunningham contribution as well as the listed artists,she provides some superb guitar and vocals to a few tracks on this album,the album is a worthy consideration to anyones collection.