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Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall (Live)

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Album Review

If Release the Stars displayed Rufus Wainwright as a weary, wannabe expatriate who was (in his own words) "so sick of America," then Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall — released just seven months later — shows him falling in love with the country all over again. Few things are as American as the American Songbook, which Wainwright tackles here with energy, camp, and a sly wink. Reprising the entirety of Judy Garland's 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, he regains much of the momentum that was lost in Release the Stars' slower moments, performing live with a brisk 36-piece orchestra and several family guests. Perhaps there are people better suited to this task than Wainwright, singers who more closely embody the innocence that Garland always seemed to radiate in spite of her growing addiction to booze and Benzedrine. But Wainwright is obviously enamored with Garland — who, in addition to her role as one of America's greatest female entertainers, has also become an enduring icon in postwar gay history — and he revels in the glamour and glitz of her 45-year-old set list. These songs hail from a golden era dotted with trolley cars, Cadillacs, and glitzy jazz clubs, an era in which Wainwright never lived but still has the ability to convey. The secret rests in his vocals, which rise and fall between notes with all the smoothness of a slide guitar. Steeped in opera music and Tin Pan Alley tunes, Wainwright doesn't fall prey to the trappings of a contemporary pop singer, but rather comes across as someone much older. He sings in a fail-safe tenor with colorful vibrato, unafraid to tackle several songs in their original keys and rarely, if ever, missing a note. His infrequent mistakes are mostly lyrical or rhythmic in nature — a flubbed line here, a botched intro there — and they're met with applause from the audience. So while the performance isn't perfect, particularly toward the end of the show (where, after two hours of performing swing tunes and jazz standards, Wainwright is understandably low on steam), it's still nice to hear the singer in his element, crooning about dinging trolleys and zinging heartstrings with flamboyancy that only he can muster.

Customer Reviews

Learn the original first, then experience this.

Before listening to Rufus's tribute concert of the epic Judy at Carnegie Hall performance you must hear the original. This concert was inspired out of a deep fascination and respect for Judy Garland's work, and Rufus's treatment of the songs clearly shows this. I'd like to caution all of the rabid fans of Mr. Wainwright (myself included) to resist the urge to proclaim this tribute the definitive version of the concert; it isn't. Also, I would like to say to all of the die-hard fans of Ms. Garland to deride this album as a travesty in the name of the late, great performer. This concert is meant to complement and augment the original, not replace it. That being said, Rufus's interpretations are strong and his beautifully unique voice sounds great on this album. Fans of Mr. Wainwright don't have a lot of his own live material available in album form, yet, and as of right now this is all we have. He approaches this concert as his own artist, an adoring fan, and a campy historian who has studied the original extensively. That being said, I would like to voice a criticism for whoever edited the monologues on this recording. Some of them clip off opening portions of Rufus speaking to the audience and the effect is quite jarring. The original Garland concert was expertly edited to include presumably all of Judy's conversing with the audience and just enough of the audience to not irritate like many live recordings can. If you're a devoted fan of Rufus, eventually get this album, but not until you've studied the original. There's no sense in buying a tribute album when you don't understand what is being honored.

Not a triumph, not a travesty

I've been as big of a Rufus fan as it's possible to be for close to ten years now, and I've been a Garland fan for 16 years. As such, it's my belief that this record is neither as glorious as the five star reviews would indicate, nor as awful as the one star reviews would suggest. It does suffer when compared to Judy's original Carnegie Hall concert recording---but then, so did many of Judy's own subsequent concerts. (His falsetto strangulation of "Do It Again" is particularly unfortunate.) Rufus' singing style is far too classical at its root to bring adequate swing--or "zing!"--to much of the material, but he manages to slide through on charm. This is just a fun, pet-project, costume party of a record that is best taken lightly. If nothing else, it's a tribute which points up the irreplaceable greatness of Garland. Rufus' prodigious talents are better served on his own studio records.


I saw Rufus do this at the Hollywood Bowl and the essence is definitely carried over in to this live recording. I do have to say, Martha doing Stormy Weather is simply amazing! If you haven't heard her self-titled album, definitely check it out! I never got the chance to see Judy, but after hearing Judy's Carnegie album, Rufus definitely pulls off the feel of that magical night. There's a whole debate on here that Rufus is not Judy, yada yada, who cares? It's an homage and a sincere one at that.


Born: July 22, 1973 in Rhinebeck, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

A singer/songwriter whose lush, theatrical pop harked back to the traditions of Tin Pan Alley, cabaret, and even opera, Rufus Wainwright was born in 1973; the son of folk music luminaries Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, his parents divorced while he was a child, and he was raised by his mother in Montreal. Beginning his piano studies at age six, by 13 he was touring with his mother, aunt Anna, and his sister Martha in a group billed as the McGarrigle Sisters and Family; a year later, Wainwright...
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