Recommended listening, when one disc just isn’t enough
By Gregg Shapiro
In 2004, more than 20 years after the death of groundbreaking gay glam god Jobriath, the compilation Lonely Planet Boy hit shelves. An assortment of tracks culled from his two Elektra Records albums, released 30 years earlier, it called necessary attention to the underrated Jobriath who never got the acclaim that he deserved. Newly available CD reissues of those full-length albums, the 1973 self-titled debut and 1974’s Creatures of the Street (both on Collectors’ Choice Music), are important musically and historically. As an unapologetically queer artist at a time when it was risky to be one, Jobriath (nee Bruce Campbell), like the New York Dolls, attempted to give glam an American accent. He succeeded on songs such as “Space Clown,” “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Movie Queen,” “I’m a Man,” “Morning Star Ship,” and “Blow Away,” from the eponymous album, and “Heartbeat,” “Dietrich/Fondyke,” “Street Corner Love,” “Scumbag,” and “Liten Up,” from its follow-up.
When all is said and done, this could be the breakthrough year for out artist (Richard) Morel. With two acclaimed discs already under his belt, an enduring career as well-respected remixer Pink Noise, and Blowoff (his regular club gig with Bob Mould, in whose band he also toured, still going strong), Morel has already established himself as a multi-talented man of music. Morel co-wrote three songs on Cyndi Lauper’s dance-oriented 2008 disc Bring Ya to the Brink, including the brilliant “Same Ol’ Story.” He has also just released the ambitious and rewarding double disc set The Death of the Paperboy (Outsider Music). On “Disc-1,” Morel delivers 11 songs, including standouts “Stillborn,” “No Makes Me Lonely,” “Anymore Anymore,” “The Start Is the End,” “My Side,” “Falling off the Verge,” and “I’m So Low I Keep on Falling,” that echo the varied musical style of his previous efforts (electronic, pop, modern rock, funk) and also contain a similar autobiographical tone. “Disc-O” (get it?) features eight Pink Noise dance remixes that provide an enhanced way of listening to some of the songs.
Ever since the release of her breakthrough album The Color and the Light, out singer/songwriter Jennifer O’Connor has been perfecting her songwriting dexterity and her performance chops. On her new disc Here With Me (Matador), which is as remarkable for its line-up of guest musicians (including Darren Jessee of Ben Folds Five fame and Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady) as it is for the fact that it was recorded over the course of 12 days in early 2008, O’Connor continues to amaze. Beginning with album opener “The Church and the River,” in which she sings “Between the church and the river/my love gives to me, she makes me a giver,” she sets the tone for the songs of emotional connection that follow. It recurs in the rocking “Daylight Out,” the beautiful tragedy of “Valley Road ’86,” the heartbreaking “End of the Hall,” the bare honesty of “Xmas Party,” as well as the celebrations of love that are “Credit in the Cost,” and, of course, the title track.
Amanda Palmer, the openly bi half of punk cabaret act the Dresden Dolls, steps out on her own on the solo disc Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (Roadrunner). Loyal Dresden Dolls fans will be delighted to know that Palmer doesn’t deviate that much from the band’s formula. Since she is the most vocal part of the duo, it’s not surprising that she would put out a solo effort. More than half of the tracks were produced (or co-produced with Palmer) by the aforementioned Ben Folds, who also plays on some of the songs. It turns out to be a good match. Palmer, like Folds, plays piano and they share a similar playing style that borders on the theatrical. To her credit, it’s a solid disc, with standout tracks such as “Runs in the Family,” “Ampersand,” “Guitar Hero,” “The Point of It All,” and the unsettling “Oasis.”
Jay Brannan will probably be familiar to GLBT moviegoers as Ceth from John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus and Jake in here! TV’s Holding Trevor. As it turns out Brannan is also a talented musician. On his debut album Goddamned (Great Depression), Brannan performs 11 original numbers, accompanying himself on guitar. He’s also joined on a few tunes by other musicians, including Bitch on violin. He has a very distinctive songwriting style and his lyrics often belie his sly sense of humor, with “American Idol” and “At First Sight” as good examples. He also doesn’t shy away from queer subject matter on songs including “Housewife,” “Half-Boyfriend,” “Bowlegged & Starving,” and “String-a-Long-Song.” Brannan can also get serious, as you can hear on the title track.
It was something of a revelation to this reviewer when he discovered that Rick Berlin, front man of ’80s Boston cult band Berlin Airlift, is gay. Like Me and Van Gogh, its 2005 predecessor, the latest solo disc by Berlin, Old Stag (Hi-N-Dri), is an intimate and personal affair. Even the string section (“recorded in a B.U. classroom”) on “Happy Lesbians in the Snow” and “Elle” feels homegrown and folksy. Berlin, who has been a recording artist for more than 30 years, retains his unique musical perspective and continues to express himself for all who are willing to listen.
Lately it seems like you can’t turn on queer cable station Logo without seeing queer hip-hop artist Johnny Dangerous. Proving that the genre’s standard of suggestiveness is not the sole province of straight rappers, when Dangerous opens his mouth he spits smutty rhymes so tight you can bounce a quarter off of them. His searing latest disc White Hot (US2/Top Star/Crunks Not Dead) not only lives up to the claim of the title but also the explicit content of the parental advisory label on the cover. Take your pick from Dangerous’ raunchy raps on “Take Your Man,” “Three Minute Pop,” “(Wan Dat) Ass Is,” “Hotline,” “2 Hot 4 T.V.,” “Hot Boi,” and “Eat It,” to name a few.
Like the above-mentioned Jay Brannan, Houston Bernard has been dividing his time between appearing in films and working as a recording artist. And like Johnny Dangerous, Bernard doesn’t shy away from talking dirty when necessary on his new album See the World (houstonbernard.com). On this 15-track disc, it sounds as though Bernard is moving away from hip-hop and in a more dance-rock-oriented direction as is evident on “I Feel Gorgeous,” “Dark Dancefloor,” “See the World,” “Bandit,” and “Let It Blow.”
You might never guess from looking at Cameron Carpenter, in his glittery, tight-fitting T-shirts, skinny jeans, and pointy-toed shoes that he’s an organist, but he is. The openly queer musician knows his way around the pedals and the keys as you can hear on Revolutionary (Telarc). Among the 11 tracks on the disc, which also includes a bonus DVD with performance footage for the purpose of showing off Carpenter’s “Fred Astaire-like footwork,” are compositions by Chopin, Bach, Liszt, Horowitz, and Duke Ellington. Equally as impressive are the two Carpenter compositions, including “Homage to Klaus Kinski.”
On Mothertongue (Bedroom Community/Brassland), gay musician and composer Nico Muhly creates classically oriented music for ears that might ordinarily turn away from the genre. If you can imagine Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) collaborating with Philip Glass, then you are on the right path. By “Hress,” the third part of the title composition, the experimental but accessible music has moved to another realm altogether—modern, alive, fresh, and almost familiar.
Almost 50 years since it debuted on Broadway, the musical Gypsy has had its fair share of revivals. Prior to the current award-winning production now on Broadway, starring Patti LuPone as Mama Rose, Bernadette Peters played the role just five years earlier. Before her, it was Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, and the original Mama Rose, Ethel Merman. Rosalind Russell played her in the movie, and Bette Midler did the same on television. Co-written by two gay men, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, along with Jule Styne, Gypsy remains one of the most popular musicals of the modern era. Perhaps there is a clue in Gypsy: The 2008 Broadway Cast Recording (Time-Life) to explain the staying power of the show.
Laurents also worked with gay playwright Jerry Herman as director for the stage musical La Cage Aux Folles. In 1961, more than 20 years before La Cage, and just a few years before Hello, Dolly! and Mame, two musicals that cemented Herman’s reputation and made him a household name, his first full-length Broadway musical Milk and Honey, about the state of Israel, made its debut. Newly reissued on CD with a bonus track, the booklet for Milk and Honey (DRG), also includes a recent interview with Herman.
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of GLBT performers.