With strong comeback albums by Rufus Wainwright, Nona Hendryx, and Scissor Sisters, to mention a few, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the gayest years in LGBT music history. The sheer variety of musical styles also speaks to the marvels and talents our community has to offer to listeners.
Hot House (Concord Jazz), for instance, by gay vibes genius Gary Burton and pianist Chick Corea, features the pair performing renditions of songs by everyone from the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) and Jobim and de Moraes (“Chega de Saudade”) to Gershwin and Weill (“My Ship”) and Monk (“Light Blue”). Smoking!
Gay singer/songwriter Rick Berlin, a longtime Boston music scene fixture perhaps known more widely via bands such as Orchestra Luna and Berlin Airlift, is backed up by The Nickel & Dime Band on Always on Insane (rickberlin.com). The young and energetic band allows him to rock out, beginning with “(I’m a) Slut,” making this one of the sexiest sets of songs Berlin has ever recorded.
As always, Garrison Starr brings a touch of twang to the scene. The ironically titled Amateur (Radtown) finds the lesbian singer/songwriter rocking harder than ever on the amazing “To Garrison, on Her 29th Birthday.” But longtime fans who have come to rely on her down-home style of front-porch musical wisdom will also be pleased with “Slow Crawl,” “Keep Your Head Down,” and “When You’re Really Trying,” among others.
Out singer/songwriter Maia Sharp, who is sharing some tour dates during the fall of 2012 with Starr, is back with Change the Ending (Blix Street/Crooked Corwn). Sharp, the daughter of famed songwriter Randy Sharp (she can be heard performing with her father and others on the new album Dreams of the San Joaquin), has even collaborated with Art Garfunkel on a disc with Buddy Mondlock. Sharp is a marvelous performer in her own right with a number of standout solo discs to her credit. In addition to the infectious lead single “Me After You,” Sharp does a brilliant job of capturing the challenges of being different on the wonderful “Standing Out in a Crowd.”
Getting closer to living up to his promise, openly gay American Idol alum Adam Lambert narrowly avoids the major-label sophomore slump with the delirious disco of Trespassing (19/RCA). Still suffering from the over-production that plagued For Your Entertainment, the fact that Lambert doesn’t get buried under some of the rubble on Trespassing speaks volumes about his talent. Standouts such as Lambert co-compositions “Cuckoo” and the Scissor Sisters-like “Kickin’ In,” as well as the ballads “Underneath” and “Outlaws of Love,” bode well for the future.
Hunx (aka Seth Bogart) is one of those queer musicians whose abilities can’t be contained in one place. After putting in time as a member of the Kill Rock Stars act Gravy Train!!!!, Hunx released the Gay Singles comp and followed it up with the excellent full-length Too Young to Be in Love as Hunx & His Punx. Hairdresser Blues (Hardly Art), a more intimate and, dare it be said, mature effort than its predecessor, is simply credited to Hunx. You can hear the difference on the songs “Let Me In,” “Always Forever,” and “Say Goodbye Before You Leave,” to name a few.
Like Gravy Train!!!!, The Gossip were once a part of the Kill Rock Stars roster. On A Joyful Noise (Columbia), Beth Ditto and the Gossip borrow a page from Gravy Train!!!!’s discarded handbook and move in a more deliberately dance-oriented direction. It’s a good fit—Ditto is a born disco diva. Check out the New Order-esque “Move in the Right Direction,” the irresistibly sexy “Get a Job” (a contender, along with the Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki,” as dance track of the year), and the funky vintage disco of “Get Lost,” among others.
As twosomes go, UK breakthrough duo 2:54—out lesbian guitarist Hannah Thurlow and her sister Colette—can make quite a ruckus when they want to on their eponymous self-titled Fat Possum debut. Opener “Revolver” is a good example, as is “Circuitry.” There is also an appealing rhythmic quality to “Easy Undercover,” “Creeping,” and “Sugar” that breaks up some of the disc’s monotony.
Another sibling act, K’s Choice (featuring out lesbian Sarah Bettens and her brother Gert), has returned after a hiatus of more than eight years, during which Sarah embarked on a solo career. As if to make up for lost time, the group is releasing two discs, the studio effort Echo Mountain (LDM/Cocoon) and the live recording Little Echoes (Wallaby/Rough Trade). Little Echoes is particularly notable for the covers of songs by Split Enz (“Message to My Girl”), Radiohead (“No Suprises”), and the Pointer Sisters (“I’m So Excited”).
On their new album Always (Polyvinyl), Xiu Xiu, featuring queer lead vocalist Jamie Stewart, are as daring and challenging as, well, always. Just listen as they shift from the frenetically organized chaos of “I Luv Abortion” to the lush drama of “The Oldness.” Framing it all is the bouncing roll of “Hi” and “Beauty Towne” at the top and “Smear the Queen” at the end—some of the darkest and most exciting dance tracks you could ever imagine.
Kind of a (re-)introduction to a talented performer, the double disc Into the Wild (WB) by queer ukulele-slinging singer/songwriter LP (aka Laura Pergolizzi) leaves the listener wanting more. The five-song EP and accompanying DVD capture the riveting artist in a live setting at Eastwest Studios where she unleashes her powerhouse vocals (think Brandi Carlile) as she works her way through a brief set, including the title cut that has become perhaps her best known tune.
There must be something in the atmosphere causing lesbians to use only their initials and release EPs. AG (aka Adrianne Gonzalez, formerly known professionally as Adrianne, as well as a member of The Rescues) has put out a six-song EP The Beatles (Red Parade) on which she extends her gratitude to John, Paul, George, and Ringo by reinterpreting half a dozen of their songs. Focusing on the early Beatles catalog (three of the songs are from the Beatles’ first album), AG brings a distinctively queer perspective to “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “I Saw Her Standing There” and raises the curtain on the drama in “She Loves You” and “There’s a Place.”
As concept records go, 19—Songs for and Inspired by Valencia: Chapter 19 by Jen Schande is among the more interesting ones. A visceral stand-alone soundtrack to the movie, comprised of 21 short films, based on queer writer/activist Michelle Tea’s book Valencia, 19 is at turns raw (“Ghost Power”), clever (“I Really Like Sonic Youth, and I Really Want to Have Sex with You”), tender (“A Different Kind of Stripped Down (A Different Kind of Tease),” and never boring.
Said to be a different musical direction for the NYC trio Viva (led by Viva DeConcini), Rhinestones and Rust (electricviva.com) kicks off with the original bluesy/punk opening track, and in keeping with that mood features a twangy Western Swing cover of T.J. “Red” Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues,” as well as a blues-drenched reading of the vintage Dolly Parton tune “Gonna Hurry.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.