Martha Wainwright is not the child of a street acrobat from Normandy. She was not raised in a brothel, and she hasn't wandered the cobblestoned walkways of pre-war Pigalle, in Paris, singing for enough small change to get by. She's never been accused of being an accessory to murder, and she's never narrowly escaped a close call with a vengeful, gun-toting pimp. Those events are all part of the tragic and tumultuous history of one Edith Piaf, the performer who rose above her humble roots to become the internationally acclaimed “Little Sparrow,” arguably France's greatest popular singer of all time. Piaf transformed those unfortunate circumstances into a storied career, pouring the pain and turmoil of her childhood into her interpretations of exquisitely emotional ballads.
It takes a unique gift and sheer guts to tackle the legacy of such a beloved icon. Luckily, Martha Wainwright has both, and then some. Evidence of this can be found on her stunning new album, Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris: Martha Wainwright Sings Piaf (Maplemusic Recordings), a collection of 15 gorgeous songs originally made famous by Piaf, and now masterfully interpreted by Wainwright. Produced (and inspired) by American music ace Hal Willner, the album was recorded live during three intimate performances at the Dixon Place Theatre in New York City in the summer of 2009. The results are nothing short of magnificent.
Wainwright is no stranger to being part of a remarkable artistic legacy. The daughter of celebrated singer-songwriters (the late Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III), and the sister of virtuoso Rufus Wainwright, Martha is a standout talent in a family of great musicians, and she's swiftly made her name as one of Canada's finest musical performers. And though she grew up surrounded by warmth and music in Montreal, Quebec, not struggling on the streets of Paris, Martha became enamored of Edith Piaf at a very young age, drawn to the potent emotions and audacious attitude of the Little Sparrow's music.