Recording information: Studio 63, St-Sauveur-des-monts, Quebec.
Most mothers sing to their children, but not all infants have the privilege of being sung to sleep by revered figures of the contemporary folk scene of the '70s and '80s. Two key things that stepsisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche have in common is that (a) they were both fathered by Loudon Wainwright III, and (b) they had remarkably gifted singers for mothers, as Martha's mom was Kate McGarrigle (who recorded a handful of brilliant albums with her sister Anna), while Lucy was born to Suzzy Roche (who was one third of the fine sibling vocal trio the Roches). While Martha and Lucy have made splendid music on their own, they've teamed up for the first time as the Wainwright Sisters to record a collection of lullabies, and Songs in the Dark is a lovely and surprising set of tunes for late at night. While most recordings of lullabies tend to lean to the sweet and toothless, that isn't the case here; while there are many moments of peace and beauty on this set, a recurring theme here is that a baby can hear your tone but doesn't know quite what you're saying, and as a consequence a tired and cranky mama may be murmuring about how much she wishes the kids would finally go to sleep ("Baby Rocking Medley" and "Lullaby") or that only the cruelest of fates await a growing child ("End of the Rainbow"), or sharing a folk song that's a lot darker than you might remember ("Go Tell Aunt Rhody"). But for every dark or cynically funny moment here, there's another that honestly touches the heart, and if "El Condor Pasa" and "Our Mother the Mountain" aren't usually thought of as lullabies, they're lovely and evocative in this context, while "Runs in the Family" is an honest but lovely testament to the bonds of family. The songs are wrapped up in gorgeous harmonies from Martha and Lucy, and the arrangements and production are spare and all the more effective for it. Most recordings of lullabies are long on charm and short on substance, but the Wainwright Sisters have made an album that will suit a thoughtful mom or dad as much as a restless youngster, and Songs in the Dark is something special from two remarkable talents. ~ Mark Deming