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Release The Stars: Rufus Wainwright

Album: Rufus Wainwright
Label: Geffen

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The son of singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian folkie Kate McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright has released a fairly stunning self-titled debut. While his folk pedigree suggests an obvious career path, Wainwright's music has as much in common with cabaret as it does Pete Seeger: Like Randy Newman's early, best work, Wainwright's album delivers a remarkable demonstration of how much life young talent can breathe into old forms. (He's aided on several tracks by Van Dyke Parks, an old hand at just that sort of thing.) Not that Rufus Wainwright is a retro exercise: If anything, it most closely resembles Michael Penn's excellent 1989 debut, March, which similarly distilled the better part of a century's worth of pop music into a contemporary setting. With a limited but distinctive and expressive voice, Wainwright's 12 original songs seethe with passionate intensity. An opera fan—the album is peppered with operatic references—Wainwright may not have the range for arias, but his delivery of lines that wouldn't work for most singers is convincing and moving in a way that would make any diva proud. Sounding like nothing else out there right now, this lush, toughly romantic album is one of the year's most striking debuts.