From his legendary capacity for substance abuse to the lush, operatic sweep of his best music, hipster piano man Rufus Wainwright has a well-documented flair for the dramatic. And if the liner art of his latest album/DVD package, "Want Two," is any indication, some things never change.
Wainwright, serving up charming chamber-pop.
This is the sequel to last year's fine "Want One," and its accompanying booklet features a centerfold image of the gay singer/songwriter as a dead (or perhaps sleeping) Gothic heroine, decked out in a gossamer gown and outfitted with yarn, a knitting needle and a beatifically tragic profile.
The opener "Agnus Dei" follows the album art's portentous lead, with Wainwright warbling a liturgical formula (in Latin, no less) over music that conjures both difficult-listening maestro John Cage and Giuseppe Verdi.
From there, though, "Want Two" settles into the charming and sophisticated chamber-pop that Wainwright has cultivated ever since his self-titled debut in 1998. "The One You Love" begins as a slinky new wave toe-tapper before heading in the direction of Hungarian folk music. "Crumb by Crumb" is a shuffling, Tin Pan Alley-style ode to the ineffable power of a new crush, and the fetching melody of the disc's best tune, "Little Sister," glides by on swelling strings and a harpsichord.
On the latter number, Wainwright even unbends his gender, flashing back to a childhood memory and reminding his sister that "your brother is a boy" -- just in case, one imagines, anyone got thrown by the album art's heroine chic.
-- Shannon Zimmerman
Rufus Wainwright is scheduled to appear Friday at Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
I WAS BORN BUT . . .
When Roddy Bogawa needed music to score his autobiographical Asian American coming-of-age film "I Was Born, but . . ." he first looked to the bands that helped mold his youth in Los Angeles: local bands X and the Minutemen, plus punk and early hardcore bands such as the Dead Kennedys, the Clash, Buzzcocks and Minor Threat.
Licensing proved a hassle, so Bogawa approached a musician from two of his favorite bands to write and perform the score. Chris Brokaw played in Codeine and the intense Boston band Come, a group Bogawa would go see every chance he got and a song of whose he licensed for an earlier film.
In Brokaw, Bogawa chose a peer; though they grew up on separate coasts, it was to the same punk soundtrack. The score Brokaw wrote and performed, his first venture into writing music for film, hints of nonconformity burnished by the introspection of maturity -- a punk sensibility that's grown up and turned inward.
All instrumental and nearly all solo guitar, the songs share a woodshedding tone. You can easily imagine Brokaw watching a film, clutching a guitar and bursting forth with the Asian-inflected "Gristle" or "GPS," which nods to X's "Johny Hit and Run Paulene." The best of the batch, "Damon's Hawaiian Blues," blends slack-key sounds with a dash of Mississippi Delta.
Brokaw's fiddling with feedback works best when done briefly. The 11-minute "Chinatown" may enhance a visual backdrop but fails to truly compel on its own. On the swirling "Dust," however, Brokaw crafts a four-minute sonic dust devil, one of those capricious sand tornadoes so common in the desert Southwest: no film necessary.
-- Elaine Beebe Lapriore