Call her the anti-Norah Jones. Crinkly-voiced, not particularly friendly, more issues than a thrift-store guitar -- Martha Wainwright is a rare example of the darker folk-inspired singer-songwriter. And occasionally, she takes it too far, as when she molests a great song with the refrain "Ya bloody mother fuckin' asshole." Likewise, she has a beat poet's impulse to lay it all out on the table at once, leaving the listener to negotiate more dizzy-in-the-city run-ons than anything since early Patti Smith or Bruce Springsteen. But when she puts it all together, it's well worth it, as on the gorgeous "G.P.T," where she sings, "I'm yours and mine tonight," or "Ball and Chain," in which she lets the boyfriend have it in complex ways that should leave him more beguiled than insulted. The music is hardly your typical coffee-house fare, either, Wainwright's tuneful acoustic guitar work acquiring a tough, glam-rock bridge here, paring down to a few brittle notes there. When it all jells, as on "When the Day Is Short," a rambling metaphor for failed love, Wainwright is -- despite the lyrical traffic and emotional exhaust that makes her album so dense -- a breath of fresh air.
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