It’s a Queer Year
Get into the 2007 groove with a wealth of new GLBT music.
Plus Sony’s new GLBT label. Valentine’s Day with John Waters and Diana Ross.
By Gregg Shapiro
Gay cable networks, satellite radio programs, podcasts, and even MySpace.com are helping to give GLBT musicians the increased exposure that many of them deserve. But even without those outlets, queer musicians continue to produce music worth experiencing in any medium.
Roll over Erasure and tell Dangerous Muse the news, there’s another gay electro duo on the scene. As The Divys , Cliff Hritz and William Schrul combine their individual admiration for dance and rock music, resulting in a listener-friendly disc of new wave-influenced tunes on This Is What You Get (thedivys.com). Already celebs in their hometown (their “Mirror Queen” functions as the theme song for In Bed with Butch, the Philadelphia cable show), they sound like they are ready to break out on a larger scale.
If dancing is on the agenda, consider Santimanitay (Quango), the eagerly awaited sophomore full-length release by Slow Train Soul for the cool down phase. Queer lead singer Lady Z is the very definition of sultry and somehow manages to lower the temperature a few degrees while still steaming up the windows. This is especially the case on “Mississippi Freestylin’,” “Sexing the Cherry,” “Ma Soucouyant,” and “Eight in Nine.” If resting is overrated, cut loose on “Goldiggah,” “I Want You to Love Me,” “The City That Never Sleeps,” and “Shine.”
Queer renaissance man Daniel Cartier is nothing if not persistent. He dabbles in the visual arts and film acting, and, as a musician, Cartier went from the subways of New York City to a major label (Elton John’s Rocket Records) back to life as a productive indie performer. You and Me Are We (Endurance), which features slightly less of the electronics than his previous disc, contains a number of terrific tunes, including “Great,” “Pretty Boy,” “Lay It On,” “The Doofus of Love,” and a unique take on Gary Numan’s “Cars.”
Individually, Andrea Bunch and Aerin Tedesco have been working hard to make names for themselves. Together, the real-life couple has joined forces to become Congress of Starlings. The duo’s full-length debut, Albedo (Egasage), is the best of both (of their) worlds in which lovely harmonies and timeless acoustic instrumentation dominate, while elements of programming ground the whole project in the present, with an eye (and an ear) toward the future. Listen to “Killing Wage” as an example.
Chicago-based alternative-folk singer/songwriter Shelley Miller has once again teamed up with producer Tommi Zender for her second full-length disc, Morning Somewhere (shelleymiller.net). Miller stays true to her contemporary folk roots but doesn’t hesitate to turn up the twang when necessary, as you can hear on “Hurricane” and the Lucinda Williams-esque “Rocking Chair.”
Perhaps the most prolific gay artist currently at work, Stephin Merrit was behind at least two discs in 2006, including Showtunes, a compilation of his theatrical collaborations. The other disc, The Tragic Treasury: Songs from a Series of Unfortunate Events (Nonesuch) is credited to The Gothic Archies, one of Merritt’s musical units (which also includes The Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes, and The 6ths). A musical match made in heaven, most of the songs originally appeared within the confines of the audio versions of Lemony Snicket books, from “The Bad Beginning” to “The End,” and having them under one cover, so to speak, is in itself a fortunate event.
“Zaka,” a 2003 composition by 2005 Outmusic-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, receives its world premiere recording on Strange Imaginary Animals (Cedille) by contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird (which performed here last month in a Houston Friends of Music concert). In fact, the CD also features the world premiere recordings of “Violence” and “Evanescence” by Gordon Fitzell, “Friction Systems” by David M. Gordon, and “Strange Imaginary Remix” by Dennis DeSantis, on which eighth blackbird gets downright funky. All of this is to say that this is a splendid opportunity for listeners to greatly expand their musical horizons.
Speaking of the Outmusic Awards, mono-monikered 2005 recipient Adrianne has returned with the wonderful Sweet Mistake (Wheat). Of course, she’s not the only queer female making an impact. Former Sister Seven front-woman Patrice Pike is still rocking like nobody’s business on Unraveling (Tape Slap), while fellow award-winner Catie Curtis continues to bridge the gap between folk and pop with the greatest of ease on Long Night Moon (Compass).
In a community that is already considered to be alternative, there are any number of musicians pushing those boundaries even further. Che Arthur, for instance, is an out musician who plays guitar in the indie punk band Atombombpocketknife. On his second solo album, Iron (Sick Room), he demonstrates his skills in both the scream-o (“Veil”) and emo (the early solo Bob Mould-like “Bistrica”) realms. Boyskout, a queer female-fronted band from San Francisco, isn’t afraid to toss in a violin (“Apt. 2a”) when necessary on their second full-length disc, Another Life (Three Ring). That doesn’t mean that they can’t kick ass, something they do on “Spotlight,” “Lobby Boys,” “Suicide,” and “Happy Yet?,” among others.
Still slightly outnumbered by lesbians, gay male singer/songwriters are nevertheless doing what they can to make their presence felt. Recorded “at the end of the 20th century” in various locations, Live Shows (Chihuahua) is David Brown‘s first new release since Storm in a Teacup in 1999. If you have that disc, or Brown’s first, Splendid Wings, you will surely recognize these songs in their concert versions, which serves to give them a renewed energy. Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Dar Williams, and Joni Mitchell are among the sirens that Robert German thanks in the liner notes for his CD Sirens of Brooklyn (Pigeonhole). However, it is DiFranco who seems to have had the most influence on this singer/songwriter. Award-winning singer/songwriter Terry Christopher returns with Journey of a Wordsmith (terrychristopher.com), the follow-up to his well-received Take Another Look, on which he ventures into Santana territory on “This Will Not Be the Way,” and more.
For those whose tastes run more toward the traditional, but want something less experimental than eighth blackboard, take a listen to Here’s to the Heroes (Rhino) by The Ten Tenors . Living up to the “1 in 10” theory, Dion Molinas is the tenor who identifies as gay. With 20th-century poets, including Cavafy, Crane, Frost, Merwin, Paz, and Milosz as inspiration, out neo-classical composer and pianist Luke Parkin has created the double disc set Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (lukeparkin.com).
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of GLBT performers.
More GrooveOut: Sony’s new GLBT label, and Valentine’s Day with John Waters and Diana Ross.