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Rufus Wainwright Goes Folk With Brandi Carlile, David Byrne, and … Chaka Khan

'Folkocracy' is out on June 2, just a few weeks prior to the artist's 50th birthday
(Photo: Cindy Ord / Getty Images for We Stand United)

Rufus Wainwright has never been shy about putting his own unique spin on any number of musical styles, from ’70s singer/songwriter fare to belting out Judy Garland classics at Carnegie Hall. Ahead of his 50th birthday in July, Wainwright is returning to the roots passed down to him by his folk legend parents Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle with Folkocracy, featuring a number of guest appearances.

The Mitchell Froom-produced album’s lead track is the Brandi Carlile-assisted murder ballad “Down in the Willow Garden.” Also appearing on Folkocracy are John Legend, David Byrne, Sheryl Crow, Nicole Scherzinger, Andrew Bird, ANOHNI, Susanna Hoffs, Van Dyke Parks, Madison Cunningham, and the decidedly non-folk singer Chaka Khan on a cover of “Cotton Eyed Joe.” It will be released on June 2 by BMG.

Explaining the eclectic group of artists, Wainwright says, “This album is almost like a recorded birthday party and birthday present to myself. I just invited all the singers that I greatly admire and always wanted to sing with.”

“The older I get, the more I appreciate how valuable my folk knowledge is, to have had it ingrained in me as a child,” he adds. “I’m from a bona fide folkocracy who mixed extensively with other folkocracies such as the Seegers and the Thompsons. I spun off into opera and pop. Now I’m back where it all began.”

Cementing the familial vibe, Folkocracy closes with “Wild Mountain Thyme,” which Wainwright often sang as a child with his sisters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche. They both appear on this version, as do their aunt Anna McGarrigle, cousin Lily Lanken, and family friend Chaim Tannenbaum, who played the late Kate McGarrigle’s banjo on the recording. “I’m so happy mum made it onto the album,” Rufus says. “Without her there would be no Folkocracy.”

Wainwright will be busy on the road before and after the album arrives, but will touch down at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall on the June 2 release date for a one-off Folkocracy celebration with as-yet-unnamed special guests. He will also stage a five-night residency at Café Carlyle in New York from May 16-20, during which he will perform the songbook of Kurt Weill.

On Friday (March 10), look for Wainwright performing with Miley Cyrus on her Disney+ special Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions).

Here is the tracklist for Folkocracy:

“Alone” (Feat. Madison Cunningham)
“Heading for Home” (Feat. John Legend)
“Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” (Feat. Susanna Hoffs, Chris Stills, and Sheryl Crow)
“Down in the Willow Garden” (Feat. Brandi Carlile)
“Nacht und Träume”
“Harvest” (Feat. Andrew Bird and Chris Stills)
“Going to a Town” (Feat. ANOHNI)
“High on a Rocky Ledge” (Feat. David Byrne)
“Kaulana Na Pua” (Feat. Nicole Scherzinger)
“Hush Little Baby” (Feat. Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche)
“Black Gold” (Feat. Van Dyke Parks)
“Cotton Eyed Joe” (Feat. Chaka Khan)
“Arthur McBridge”
“Wild Mountain Thyme” (Feat. Anna McGarrigle, Chaim Tannenbaum, Lily Lanken, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Martha Wainwright)