After detours into blues (Blood, Bones & Baltimore), Latin music (Tango), and other genres, the folk band disappear fear, led by the versatile SONiA, returns with its best album in years, Broken Film (disappearfear.com). Incorporating politics and social commentary in her distinctive style, SONiA takes on family (“Farmland and the Sky,” the title cut), spirituality (“Ari Ari”) and, of course, love (the anthemic “Love Out Loud” and “L Kol L Vavcha,” which is partially sung in Hebrew). But the album’s high point is the breathtaking “The Banker,” in which SONiA deftly addresses the impact of the financial crisis with wisdom, sensitivity, and fury.
Bi-singer/songwriter Ezra Furman includes a quote by trans writer/activist Kate Bornstein in the liner notes of his new disc Day of the Dog (Bar None), credited to Furman “with his band The Boy-Friends.” Considered to be the suburban-Chicago Bob Dylan of his generation, Furman wastes no time whipping us into a frenzy on “I Wanna Destroy Myself,” which combines the garage heat of Hunx & His Punx with the Violent Femmes. “Tell ’Em All to Go to Hell” is a slicked-back rockabilly rouser. “My Zero” is easily one of Furman’s catchiest and most pop-friendly tunes. Listening to Day of the Dog is a little like walking through the pound and looking at all the pooches in cages, each with its own distinctive personality. There’s the fierce “Maybe God Is a Train,” the affectionate “Been So Strange” (dig that brass), and “Slacker/Adria,” which is the kind of mixed-breed that stops people in their tracks.
The subject of Lily Keber’s fascinating doc Bayou Maharaj: The Tragic Genius of James Booker, the late, queer New Orleans piano legend James Booker was both a genius and tragic. A gifted performer with a serious substance-abuse problem, Booker, who died at 43 in 1983, was so unpredictable when it came to recording that he made only a few studio albums. One of them, Classified, is considered to be his masterwork. Reissued in time to coincide with the release of the doc, Classified: Remixed and Expanded (Rounder) is an exceptional 22-track crash course in Booker. Almost half of the songs are previously unreleased, including the extraordinary Booker original “I’m Not Sayin’,” which says plenty about his talent.
A pianist and performer as flamboyant and talented as James Booker, Elton John also battled his demons. Fortunately for him, he was able to overcome the obstacles and is still here with us today. Elton John’s most recent album The Diving Board (Capitol) finds the piano man re-teamed with T Bone Burnett (who produced EJ’s collaboration disc with Leon Russell), for an admirable return to form. In essence, his playing is sensational and not buried under distracting production. Just listen to “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” one of the best songs on the album, which is a reminder of the way Elton first made us swoon many years ago. His piano playing is also on fine display in “The Ballad of Blind Tom,” “My Quicksand,” “Home Again,” and “The New Fever Waltz.” While he deserves to be commended for making a move as daring as this, he hasn’t had a hit single in a while, and may not have one on The Diving Board, although “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight” does recall some of Elton’s ’80s hits.
Is there anything more thrilling than connecting with a band and following it from its first album to its latest, charting its evolution and growth? A melding of Tegan and Sara, Le Tigre, and Luscious Jackson, the queer Portland band Lovers has been through a series of incarnations in its more than 10 years of existence. A trio since 2010’s Dark Light, Lovers delivers on the promise of that record with the brilliant A Friend in the World (Badman). Aurally delightful, Lovers finds space for acoustic and electronic soundscapes (exemplified on “Girl in the Grass”), increasing the overall appeal. Equally adept at a dance track (such as the amazing “The Modern Art Museum of the Modern Kiss Goodbye”) as they are at the funky strut of “Oh Yeah,” the dreamy pop of “Lavender Light” and the subtle electro of “James Baldwin & the Diagonal Trance,” Lovers gives the listener plenty of reasons to fall in love with them.
Of course, there are many more LGBT artists out there. The prolific Eric Himan (who recently scored an opening slot for Patty Griffin!) delivers his most soulful recording on Gracefully (Thumbcrown). Making the most of Ryan Tedder’s sassy horn arrangements and the talents of backing vocalists Tylisha Oliver and Tina Phillips, Himan (playing both Rhodes and piano) gracefully and smoothly enters soul revivalist territory on “Red Hot Tears,” “The Only Way,” “Hard to Please” and “Call Yourself a Friend.”
Lesbian folk legend Linq returns with Disconnect (linqmusic.com) consisting of songs featuring her unique perspective on contemporary society and culture, including “Seneca Falls to Selma,” “Patriarch (Apron Strings),” “Pillow,” “Oh Bully,” and the title cut.