The world needs another loving re-creation of a famous Judy Garland concert like we all need holes in our heads. Regardless, Rufus Wainwright, the last of the classic singer-songwriters, (re)performs Garland’s 1961 recording to the hilt, complete with imitative cover design, photos, and liner notes. Sure, there’s playfulness to the project, and one can sense a smidgen of tongue in Wainwright’s cheek. But there’s no denying that he possesses a deep, abiding, camp-free love for Garland and, more significantly, the music of her grand era.
This is simply great music any way you slice it, whether in the shape of Gershwin’s achingly beautiful “Do It Again” or the torch-song-that-should-have-ended-all-torch-songs, Rodgers and Hart’s “You’re Nearer.” Musical director and conductor Stephen Oremus packages the whole two-CD affair with tender loving care, providing the solid foundation Wainwright requires to step inside these songs without tearing out any of Garland’s lustrous seams.
Guest stars include Wainwright’s sister, Martha, who pops in for a searing take on “Stormy Weather,” and his mother, Kate McGarrigle, and Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft on “After You’re Gone.” Indeed, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall is a family affair that extends the legacy of Garland and, with any luck, introduces her style and substance to a new and younger generation of fans. After all, the world is always in need of more fantastic music.