Early musical development:
In 1998, Wainwright took the first step toward her musical career, through the recording of her song "Year of the Dragon" as a contribution to The McGarrigle Hour, an album released by her mother, Kate, and her aunt, Anna McGarrigle. Shortly after this recording, Martha began singing backup vocals for her brother, Rufus. Although her musical beginnings and early recording opportunities were made possible through her already established parents and brother, she soon distinguished herself from her family and created her own musical identity.
Following her incomplete studies in drama at Montreal's Concordia University, she moved to New York City, where she was able to establish herself as an emerging singer-songwriter. She soon made contacts within the industry, one of which was producer Brad Albetta, who worked with Wainwright to produce her self-titled debut album, Martha Wainwright (released April 12, 2005 by MapleMusic Recordings).
Albetta worked again with Wainwright to produce her second album, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too, released in Canada on June 10, 2008. Special guest artists contributing to the album include Pete Townshend (The Who), Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Garth Hudson (The Band), as well as her mother, brother and aunt.
Wainwright is signed with the independent record labels Rounder Records in the United States, DiS in the United Kingdom, MapleMusic Recordings in Canada, V2 Records in Europe and Shock Records in Australia.
Style and genre:
Wainwright's style has been described as a melding of folk, rock, country, and chanson singing. The folk inspirations comes naturally and inescapably to Wainwright, as she was born into a family of folk musicians. She has also drawn inspiration from folk legend Leonard Cohen, to whom she paid tribute at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 24, 2006, singing Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel". She also performed "Tower of Song" and "The Traitor" at the Cohen tribute concert which became the film and album Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.
Her folk influences give her an acoustic sound, with an autobiographical and poetic lyricism. Her infusion of pop-rock, alt-country, and cabaret-style chanson singing contributes to the unique sound of her mostly folk-based style.
It is her vocal density and versatility which sets her apart from her peers and contemporaries. She has an uncommon vocal ability which allows her to casually leap from a simple sensuality to a longing yodel, then back to a whispering timbre; this versatility is heard in her track "Bleeding All Over You". She also displays a dynamic vocal range, which journeys from a guttural lower range ("In the Middle of the Night"), to a deep, powerful and sustainable upper range (heard in the chorus of "Comin' Tonight"). Her vocal versatility has grown throughout the years since the release of her debut album. As a result, she is now able to slide in and out of these varying stylistic degrees, while exuding a newly found air of fearless confidence.