In the three years since the release of his lavish 2007 studio album, Release The Stars, Rufus Wainwright has put out two live records—including a recording of his elaborate tribute to Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall concert—written a poorly received opera, and lost his mother, Kate McGarrigle, to cancer. Wainwright’s new LP All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu was recorded shortly before McGarrigle died, and it’s an understandably somber affair, performed by Wainwright alone with his piano and his thoughts. On some songs—like “Martha,” a direct address to his sister—Wainwright sings about his frazzled state of mind, and pleads for calm.
Yet All Days Are Nights feels a lot like the peace Wainwright is seeking; it’s an album to escape into, for comfort and commiseration. With its three adaptations of Shakespeare sonnets (written for a Robert Wilson theater piece), its reprise of an aria from Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna, and its songs about wandering sad and lonesome through the streets of New York, All Days Are Nights is both a housecleaning and a soulful wallow. Wainwright’s voice rises from the despair with breathtaking beauty, in a friendly rivalry with his rippling piano. The performance alone inspires hope. No world that produces music this lovely can be all bad.