Creating beauty has always been Rufus Wainwright's first, last, and best defense against a world that's often less than beautiful, and from the sound of Release The Stars, the world's been giving him plenty to defend against lately. It's unclear whom he's addressing on the album-opening "Do I Disappoint You," but Wainwright turns the disapproval on its head with a swelling melody and vocals passionate enough to excuse any kind of frailty. "Going To A Town," on the other hand, clearly takes American moralizing as its target, and finds Wainwright turning his back on it in disgust. The album is filled with images of moving on, refusals to settle down, and with "Tulsa," the easy pleasures of a one-night stand with, if the rumors are true, a famous rock star. (Google it to save us a lawsuit.) Wainwright produced the album himself, with executive-production assistance from Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant. It's another strong effort, but someone might have checked the orchestral excesses, which sometimes get in the way of the songs. Wainwright has put a few too many Corinthian columns on his latest temple to the gods of love and loss, but it's still an obvious act of worship.
Rufus' dad and his producer Joe Henry opt for a much sparer, more direct approach on Strange Weirdos, Loudon Wainwright III's companion album to the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up. In the liner notes, Apatow credits Wainwright's music with inspiring his comic sensibility, and the album echoes the film's clear-eyed warmth. Wainwright's moving cover of Peter Blegvad's "Daughter" plays memorably over the credits, but there's no shortage of standout originals like "Grey In L.A." and "Strange Weirdos," whose two-line summary of love could almost serve as the film's tagline: "If I let you know me, then why would you want me? / But each day I don't is a shame."