Tunes for 2010.
by Gregg Shapiro
It’s a testament to the timelessness of Hawksley Workman’s music that the reissue of his 2000 disc For Him and the Girls (Isadora) sounds like he could have written and recorded it yesterday or today. The out Canadian singer/songwriter and guitar virtuoso, one of the most riveting live performers I have ever experienced, is simply whetting our appetites for his forthcoming new album, due this year. Songs such as the delectable “No Sissies,” sinister “Tarantulove,” “Sweet Hallelujah” (which lands softly somewhere between fellow Canadians Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright), the exquisite acoustic “Safe and Sound,” and the crazy comfort of “Paper Shoes,” are proof that Workman is one of a kind. While you’re at it, I advise you to also snag Workman’s 2001 masterwork (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves, which contains the irresistible “Jealous of your Cigarette.”
O, Canada! In addition to Workman, Wainwright, Gentleman Reg, and countless others, The Hidden Cameras also hail from that mighty land to our north. Origin: Orphan (Arts & Crafts) opens on an exotic note with the Middle Eastern-influenced “Ratify the New.” But before you know it, Joel Gibb and company swiftly return to their delirious and suggestive chamber pop roots. Sexually active cuts, such as “He Falls to Me,” “Colour of a Man,” and “Kingdom Come,” indicate that Gibb still has men on his mind. But Gibb also proves himself to be a romantic, both hopeless and hopeful, on “In the NA” and “Do I Belong,” while the swirling “Underage,” which echoes the giddy “awoo” sentiment of the previous HC disc, is a sexy celebration.
Keeping with the Canadian theme, out twin sisters Tegan and Sara return with another fine album, Sainthood (Sire/Vapor). The baker’s dozen songs are examples of their continued growth as one of the most influential musical acts, queer or otherwise, out there. In the same way that Ani DiFranco inspired imitators, it’s easy to imagine the girl bands planning to follow in Tegan and Sara’s distinctive footsteps. Sainthood contains all of the elements that have made Tegan and Sara so popular—their unique lyrical perspective, the way their voices spill over each other like waves, their masterful musicianship. Alluring tunes include “On Directing,” “Red Belt,” the thrashing “Northshore,” the biting and blubbering “Alligator,” the fluid “The Ocean,” and the compelling album closer “Someday.”
Like Tegan and Sara, Beth Ditto of the Gossip is another visible out musician who has broken down barriers and received acclaim and adoration. A brash and brazen southern belle, Ditto and her band mates blaze through 13 tunes on Music for Men (Columbia), leaving ashes and asses shaking in their wake. Equally adept at belting bluesy numbers such as “8th Wonder,” “Dimestore Diamond,” and “The Breakdown,” as she is strutting like a disco diva on “Love Long Distance,” “Pop Goes the World,” “Men in Love,” and “Love and Let Love,” Beth Ditto is a true original, and the Gossip are something to talk about.
As queer voices go, Brandi Carlile has one for the ages. Soulful and haunting, it’s a voice that sticks to your ribs and brings a range of emotions to your ears. Give Up the Ghost (Columbia), Carlile’s third studio disc, is her most accomplished, accessible, and enjoyable. Still in her 20s, Carlile is a seasoned performer, having recently toured with the Indigo Girls (again). Carlile wastes no time reeling us in with the amazing “Looking Out” and follows it with equally enticing numbers, including “Dying Day,” “Dreams,” “That Year,” “Caroline,” “Before It Breaks,” “If There Was No You,” and “Oh Dear.”
It wouldn’t take much effort to eviscerate I Bought a Blue Car Today (Yellow Sound Label) by out star of stage and screen Alan Cumming. His unique vocal style probably isn’t to everybody’s taste, even those with the least bit of affection for the theatrical or the absurd. However, I want to take a moment to commend Mr. C for the notable chances he took on his debut album. “Wig in a Box/Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of the best fits for Cumming. So, surprisingly, are his renditions of songs by John Bucchino (“Expressed”) and William Finn (“What More Can I Say”), as well as “Where I Want to Be” from Chess and Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know.” That said, Cumming falls short on the remainder of the selections, including “Shine” (co-written by Three Penny Opera co-star Cyndi Lauper) and bad homages to Sinatra and Dolly (“That’s Life” and “Here You Come Again,” respectively).
“Love Is Love,” the opening track to Athena Reich’s Little Girl Dreams (athenareich.com) is an empowering LGBT anthem along the lines of Scott Free’s “Free.” Its message is clear, and Reich belts it out emphatically. Empowerment appears to be the order of the day on the disc, from the title tune through “Bogey Man,” the bluesy “Trouble,” “What About Love,” “Hey Little Girl,” and a cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.” Reich momentarily veers into Amanda Palmer territory on “Bones.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine and a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of LGBT performers.
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