by Gregg Shapiro
How cool is queer indie goddess Mirah? Even after rising through the ranks of hipster hotness (her collaboration with indie folkie Thao Nguyen only increased the heat), she has remained on the roster of the über-hip Olympia, Washington-based indie label K Records. Mirah continues her exploration of musical hybrids on her new album Changing Light (Absolute Magnitude/K Records). While the horn section on “No Direction Home” (which sounds like late-career Kate Bush) is basically enough of a reason to own this disc, you would also do well to check out “”Turned the Heat Off,” “I Am the Garden,” “24th St.,” and “Radiomind.”
Tina and the B-Side Movement was one of the bands that benefited from making music during the “gay ’90s.” Led by out front-woman Tina Schlieske, the band scored a major-label record deal and released a couple of decent records on Sire/Elektra in the mid- to late-’90s. Schlieske’s soulful wail was the draw, but it wasn’t enough to earn them the attention they deserved. After releasing solo discs under her own name, Schlieske reconvened the troops, edited the name (an improvement!) and released the album Barricade (tinaschlieske.com), credited to Tina and the B-Sides. In addition to the title cut, “More than That,” “Bother Me (Come on Over),” “I Hope I Pass Your Audition,” and a tasty cover of Bob Marley’s “Guava Jelly” are all recommended listening.
Everybody wants to put the winter of the polar vortex behind them. If it had been an Acoustic Winter (SBS), as out singer/songwriter Michelle Malone has titled her latest disc, it would have been better for all concerned. A strong collection of 10 original songs and a pair of covers, Acoustic Winter has a warmth that belies its title. “Beyond the Mountain” may be the most beautiful song Malone has ever written and deserves repeated listens. Other outstanding selections include the radiant “Burning Star,” the reflective “Mirror Ball,” the instrumental “A Walk in the Woods,” the subtly lush “Missing,” and Malone’s reading of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.”
Collaboration can be a tricky business, but when the stars align, as they do on out Catie Curtis’s Flying Dream (catiecurtis.com) disc, the payoff is considerable. Produced by queer singer/songwriter Kristen Hall (an original member of Sugarland) and featuring six songs co-written by Hall and Curtis, the pleasant folk/pop songs remain true to Curtis’s trademark style. Highlights include the exhilarating “The Queen,” “When You Find Love,” “Maybe Tomorrow,” and a sweet reading of the Bacharach/David classic “This Girl’s in Love with You.”
Smith College alumnae Hannah & Maggie (Hickok and Kraus, respectively) are a queer folk duo who do Tegan and Sara and Indigo Girls proud on their third album In the Company of Strangers (Purebred). The pair’s folk sound is enhanced by country elements (Hickok plays mandolin, and there’s a fiddle and slide guitar on some tracks). The best numbers are the ones with an element of drama, as in the case of “The Final Straw,” “Atticus,” “Heavy Ever Growing Pines,” and “The Other Half.”
Speaking of collaboration and duos, Heather Reid’s name will be familiar to fans of The Murmurs. Reid (then known as Heather Grody) was one half of that popular queer ’90s duo, along with singer/songwriter/actress Leisha Hailey. Hailey has moved on to another duo (Uh Huh Her), while Reid has struck out on her own with her solo disc Cross Words (Phyllis). Prior to the release of the album, Reid wrote the West End-bound musical Dear Bernard, and you can hear a musical-theater influence throughout Cross Words, especially on “Say What You Mean,” “Before You Left,” “Fading Away,” “Waiting Game,” “Walk Away,” and “Paris Moon.”
Coming-out stories can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Due to be released in early June (Pride month, fittingly), Youth Revisited (youthrevisited.us) by Hers is the musical coming out of Melissa Amstutz. Not an easy listen (case in point: “Thrills”), Youth Revisited is nevertheless a brave effort documenting the process of shedding one identity (marriage) for another that is your true self. Album-closer “Hold It Together” beautifully sums up the experience.
Queer Klezmer band Isle of Klezbos (get it?), led by Eve Sicular, returns with its second album, a concert recording titled Live from Brooklyn (Rhythm Media). The first nine tracks, recorded live at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in April 2013, include traditionals such as “A Glezele Yash” and “Uncle Moses Wedding Dance,” as well as newer IOK compositions such as “Noiresque” and “Mellow Manna.” But the real high point may be “When Gomer Met Molly,” a tune that celebrates both Yiddish theater legend Molly Picon and recently out actor and singer Jim Nabors. Yes, you read that right.
A musically significant and historic compilation on various levels, the double disc The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus (Real Gone/Rhino/SoulMusic) by Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong, and queer singer/songwriter Nona Hendryx) also brings hours of listening joy. Touted as a potential Philly version of The Supremes (original Bluebelle Birdsong would later become a Supreme!), Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles had a lot working in their favor, including the Atlantic Records/Jerry Wexler machinery. They could also brag about writing their own material (LaBelle’s “Patti’s Prayer,” Hendryx’s “I Need Your Love” and “Wonderful,” and Dash’s “Loving Rules”), in addition to recording a number of tunes by Curtis Mayfield and other popular musical acts of the day (The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, and others). Ultimately they had LaBelle’s vocal bravado, which would later result in hard-won chart success in the 1970s. This is also where Patti first perfected her dramatic rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.