Even with expectations consistently set sky-high, Martha Wainwright always manages to exceed even those. But the beautiful “Proserpina,” the centerpiece of her latest album Come Home to Mama, shatters everything which comes before, an evocative piano and vocal tribute to her mother Kate McGarrigle, who died two years ago. This was the final song McGarrigle wrote, performing it during her final Christmas concert six weeks before her death:
It’s a story of Persephone, or Proserpina, as I’ve chosen to do it, and this is a song about her. Proserpina causes winter. I’m not going to explain it, you can look it up later. She runs away with Pluto and goes to the dark world, and her mother gets very angry, because she doesn’t come back. Her mother is the goddess of good stuff, like food. So they make a deal that her mother gets her six months of the year, and her husband, who lives underground, gets her the other six.
I’m just now digging into the rest of the album, but every time I replay “Proserpina” I melt, That I’m hearing it a week before Christmas, during that “dark dark dark” time of the year, as McGarrigle describes it, seems appropriate. I can feel Hera’s pain as portrayed through Wainwright’s vocals, these words echoing in such stark, vivid tones. The words of her mother, with whom she no longer can make such beautiful music. But the tribute lasts beyond a lifetime. This defines the concept of meaningful music in my book, an absolutely essential listen.