Setting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music could have been a colossal flop if, say, Paula Abdul had done it. Not so with the Speakers, whose cooing, hypnotic melodies seem, somehow, like the kind of music the long-dead Irishman would sing if he were alive today.
Borrowing seven of Yeats' poems, a good dose of his lush, dreamy romanticism, and weaving in nine original tunes, the Bay Area-based duo of Peter Musselman and Brian Miller has created something sad and sparkling and fragile. And, in the end, really beautiful.
The best tunes, like the Yeats-penned "The Mountain Tomb," set their hushed Sam Beam-ish voices against an off-kilter background -- in this case, choppy guitar and a swerving menagerie of horns, clarinet and haunting violin (the latter courtesy of folkie goddess Jolie Holland). When they converge at the chorus, the effect is spine-tingling.
Only rarely do the Speakers up the decibels -- as on the banjo-crazy 12th track -- but who cares? Their meter is drum-tight, their harmonies flawless; old Yeats would be proud. -- Joel Smith
Martha Wainwright FOUR STARS
Do not assume that Martha, youngest of the universally talented Wainwright clan, is riding anyone's coattails. While her family infuses this album in ways both direct (brother Rufus and mother Kate McGarrigle join her on several songs) and indirect ("Bloody Mother F--ing Asshole" is about her estranged father, Loudon Wainwright), this is decidedly Martha's own joint.
From the initial softly warbling vocals of the first track, "Far Away," to the hypnotic rhythms of "The Maker," it's clear that this is one of those rare albums that first creeps up slowly, then invades your entire frame of reference.
In speaking purely for herself and refusing to be pigeonholed, there's something about Martha Wainwright that is vulnerable and immediately accessible. She's as witty as brother Rufus but exchanges his loopy, extravagant delivery for an enchanting directness. She's got her mother's plaintive and lilting voice while still roughing it up a little. Good music for meditative road trips or glasses of wine with like-minded friends. -- Sheri Boggs