Rufus Wainwright has had quite a career over his now fifty years, from his early grand pop star days to his more mature traditional pop present, with operas & more thrown in. But he comes from a storied heritage, son of folk troubadours Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, brother to current singers Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Rufus has never lost touch with his roots as he’s gone on so many musical journeys, but now digs in deep to those roots in Folkocracy, his guest-star laden album of his take on classic folk songs.
Largely choosing lesser-known folk pieces over the standards (though does make “Cotton Eyed Joe” very much his own piano cabaret, with none other than Chaka Khan), this makes Folkocracy more than just a ‘covers album’. It’s also more than just a ‘list of a guest voices,’ as Wainwright does different things with his friends. He combines John Legend with banjo on the touching, uplifting “Heading for Home”, while “Down in the Willow Garden’ is a crushing folk story tragedy with Brandi Carlile. Yes, his sisters & more appear in two haunting traditionals, “Hush Little Baby” and closer “Wild Mountain Thyme”, but Rufus can turn around and make his own “Going to a Town” from his last full-length, Unfollow the Rules (QRO review), into a stripped, sadder version with Anohni. There’s twee folk with David Byrne (High on a Rocky Ledge”), followed by the Hawaiian “Kaulana Nā Pua” with Nicole Scherzinger. And if you’re gonna have some fiddle in your folk, who better than Andrew Bird (“Harvest”)?
While we already knew that Rufus had a high-profile family & Los Angeles star friends (as was seen in his COVID era home livestream ‘Rufus-Retro-Wainwright-Spective’ that had audiences-of-one such as Paul Rudd & Jamie Lee Curtis – QRO livestream review), it’s great to see that he knows the musical stars, too. At fifteen songs and just over an hour, the album could have been too much music, too many people, but the restraint to the folk that Wainwright brings keeps it from being overdone, notable