Singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche is about to release her latest album “Little Beast.” I’ve been listening to it rather obsessively since Roche sent it to me a couple of weeks ago, and it’s the finest moment of an artist who first caught my ear in 2016 when she performed at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.
Wainwright Roche is coming back to Portland, this time with a show at One Longfellow Square.
Wainwright Roche is the daughter of folk musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche (The Roches). She’s also the half-sister of Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright. So it’s an understatement to say she’s from a musical background. Her fate was just about preordained. She did, however, follow a different path for a time.
A graduate of Oberlin College who also earned a master’s degree in education, Wainwright Roche taught for several years in North Carolina and New York City. In 2005, she began to wonder if music was indeed the path she was meant for, and two years later, she released her debut EP called “8 Songs” and followed it up a year later with “8 More.”
This was followed by “Lucy” in 2010 and “There’s a Last Time for Everything” in 2013. Add to that list “Fairytale and Myth” and “Mud & Apples,” both recorded with her mother Suzzy, and “Songs in the Dark” as The Wainwright Sisters with Martha.
Since I was late to the party, the “Last Time” album didn’t fly on my radar until a few weeks before her last show in Maine, and I’m just as smitten with it now as I was then, thanks in large part to its opening track “The Year Will End Again,” and Wainwright Roche’s take on pop singer Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” which was transformed from a thumping techno dance tune to an acoustic one with an understated chorus of several backing voices that will knock the wind out of you.
This brings me to the new album, “Little Beast,” and I can say with certainty that when I make my end of year list of favorite music of 2018, this will be on it. Over the course of a dozen songs, sung with vocals that are like a crystalline bell, Wainwright Roche’s lyrics are emotional tributaries all leading into the innermost chambers of the human heart, and it all starts with “Soft Line.” The song has Wainwright Roche on vocals and electric guitar, the album’s co-producer Jordan Brooke-Hamlin on acoustic and electric guitars, vocals and percussion, pedal steel and bass, Helen Vaskyvitch on vocals and Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) on acoustic guitar. “Bad luck is a rule of thumb, lapping up against the doors of some/Isn’t that where the sand comes from that lies beside the sea?” The song is breathtaking, and when it ended, I was struck with the thought, I can’t believe 11 more songs follow this one.
While feeling the aftershocks of “Soft Line,” “Quit With Me” came next, and Wainwright Roche is joined by Matthew Perryman Jones. Their voices together singing lines like “We came to be amidst a verdant giant galaxy/Provinces, roads and art and industry that kept the lights on bright, we’d see them walking home at night” is a riveting listening experience.
The first single from “Little Beast” is a track called “Heroin,” and Wainwright Roche told me she wrote the song lyrics on a plane while experiencing huge heartbreak. The song features Brooke-Hamlin on guitars, piano, drums and synth. Wainwright Roche sings about a million dollar highway on a snowy day and hanging hairpin turns from the outside lane. “It’s how I had to leave, it’s how I had to stay/It’s some things that I wanna say aren’t survivable or advisable.” Be sure your ribs are in good working order before hitting play on this one as your heart will need all the help it can get staying put during it.
Wainwright Roche also told me about the title track of “Little Beast,” which has the opening lines, “Tied up right where we left you while the summers and the winters came/That silly leash was never strong enough to hold you/We just all agreed to play this game.” She explained that it was one of the last ones written for the record. “It’s a different song then I usually write. I’m not sure I’ve ever written something before where a living thing was a stand in for a more elusive feeling or concept. We decided very quickly to name the album that. It seemed appropriate since we worked for a long time to wrestle these songs to the ground and get the record made. ‘Little Beast’ has an interesting mix of affection and wariness. I think that seemed just right for us.”
The “Little Beast” tour kicked off last week in Kansas City, Missouri, and after stops in Texas, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, arrives in Portland for a mid-week show. Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss a second of this performance. Wainwright Roche will have physical copies of the album for sale, as well as some very cool “Little Beast” T-shirts.
Lucy Wainwright Roche, 8 p.m. Wednesday Oct 10.. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $12 in advance, $15 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com