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Rufus Wainwright and his sister Martha Wainwright attend the funeral of their mother, Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle on Feb. 1 in Montreal. His new album taps a 'dark stream of sadness,' he says. ((Graham Hughes/Canadian Press))

Rufus Wainwright is returning to more intimate, personal songwriting in his new album, which makes references to the recent loss of his mother, Kate McGarrigle.

Wainwright, who saw the premiere of his first opera Prima Donna in Britain last year, releases the album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu on March 23.

The album stars just Wainwright and his piano, and has songs that reference his sister, singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, and his famous mother, who died in January.

"It just so happens that this is the most depressing and lugubrious and down record I've ever made and it corresponds perfectly with my life situation," Wainwright said Thursday in an interview with CBC's Q cultural affairs show. "I'm flowing with the dark stream of sadness."

Montreal-raised and now based in New York, Wainwright now has made six albums, including his Grammy-nominated 2007 Carnegie Hall concert tribute to Judy Garland.

'There's definitely merit in travelling through the darkness. I don't know if you feel better at the end, but you definitely get somewhere else.'

—Rufus Wainwright on grief

Wainwright calls the muse that inspired him for All Days Are Nights  a "dark brooding feminine power" and says he's allowing himself and his piano to express the inner turmoil he's felt with his mother's death.

"The nakedness is more risqué. I feel exposed, but I also feel that it's more powerful in the same way," he said.

McGarrigle, who was a pioneer of Canada's folk music scene with her sister Anna, died Jan. 18 after a long battle with cancer.

The song Zebulon has the line "My mother's in hospital, my sister's at the opera." Wainwright said he wrote the song in Montreal, while walking back to his mother's home from seeing her in Royal Victoria Hospital.

"This was two years ago and we had a particularly tough time of it in that period though we had many, many great moments as well. This was one of the low moments. I was walking back home and was shocked by this melody and these words," he said.

The song, with its slow sad melody, also refers to a long-gone crush.

Songs based on Shakespeare's sonnets

Three of the songs draw from Shakespeare's sonnets, which Wainwright worked with when he wrote music for Robert Wilson and the Berliner ensemble  last year.

"I had never really immersed myself in them and I came out the end with the traditional view that they could be the greatest pieces of literature ever written," he said.

Wainwright said his spring tour of Canada to promote All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu will be a test of his resolve in the face of his grief over McGarrigle's death.

"This is such new territory for me and there are moments when I think I'm doing fine and two seconds later I'm on the floorboards so it's uncharted. I'm just figuring it out as I go along. It's what we all go through … but it's still very tough," he said.

"There's definitely merit in travelling through the darkness. I don't know if you feel better at the end, but you definitely get somewhere else."