By Gregg Shapiro
After more than a dozen years, Terri Binion returns with the gut-wrenching The Day After the Night Before (terribinionmusic.com), an album of loss and survival. In the opening track “Long Way Back,” Binion sings, “It’s a long way back to feeling good/it’s a long way back to feeling better.” Judging by what she’s been through, she knows what she’s singing about. The album’s 11 songs, which return her to “that shining shoreline,” were created in the aftermath of the death of her wife (and the ensuing legal battle), as well as the loss of both of her parents. Binion gives Mary Gauthier a run for her money when it comes to serious subject matter, but she’s never maudlin or overly sentimental. Grief-stricken songs such as “Burden Song,” “Tiny Little Land Mines,” “Walking in Circles,” “These Days,” “Green Velvet Coat,” and “My Satellite” succeed by being both personal and universal.
When SOAK (aka Bridie Monds-Watson), a queer, Irish singer/songwriter at the end of her teen years, sings “A teenage heart/is an unguided dart/We’re trying hard/to make something of what we are” on “B A Nobody,” she knows what she’s talking about. Her debut album Before We Forgot How to Dream (Rough Trade) wears its Tegan and Sara influences on its tattoo sleeve. That’s not a bad point of reference, especially since SOAK takes that inspiration and runs with it on songs such as “Blud” and “Garden.” However, SOAK has her own unique voice, like Courtney Barnett, and drenches listeners with it on “Sea Creatures,” “Hailstones Don’t Hurt,” “Shuvels,” and the instrumental interludes such as “A Dream to Fly” and “If Everyone Is Someone—No One Is Everyone.”
Released in late 2015, Sprained Ankle (6131 Records) is the stunning and timeless debut by out singer/songwriter Julien Baker. Sparse and exquisite, the nine songs are an exciting introduction to Baker as a solo artist (she also continues to play in the band Forrister). Haunting and hypnotic songs such as the title cut, “Blacktop,” “Something,” and “Vessels” pierce your skin and become a part of your very being. Baker also knows exactly when to vary the sonic presentation, as she does on the soaring “Brittle Boned” and “Rejoice,” as well as the breathtaking piano-and-vocal closer “Go Home.”
To call lesbian singer/songwriter Tret Fure a women’s-music legend and pioneer isn’t an exaggeration. Her professional and creative affiliation with the legendary Olivia Records label and her own outstanding catalog of recordings have earned Fure a well-deserved place among artists such as Meg Cristian, Holly Near, Cris Williamson (an ex of Fure’s), and others. On the vivid Rembrandt Afternoons (Tomboy Girl), Fure augments her trademark folk sound (heard on “The Fishermen of Bristol Bay,” “Now I Know,” “How We Dare,” and “Worry Stone”) with the choir-driven anthem “Freedom,” the Cajun-spiced “Tender,” the country accent of “Riverbank,” and the comfy pop of “Slipper Mood.”
We have Mark “Uptown Funk” Ronson, of all people, to thank for the renewed interest in funk. If there’s any musical justice, lesbian drummer Nikki Glaspie and her band The Nth Power will also get some much-deserved attention via its new album, Abundance (thenthpowermusic.com). Applying less-than-subtle religious imagery to most of the songs, The Nth Power is at its most persuasive when it keeps the energy level high, as it does on songs such as the fierce and fresh “Right Now,” as well as “Waiting,” “Only Love,” and the instrumental “Altar Call.”
Approaching her third decade of “making music for a living,” lesbian singer/songwriter SONiA (of disappear fear fame) knows how to work a room. A compelling live performer, SONiA’s studio albums have come close to capturing the energy that emanates during her concerts. But as anyone who has attended a SONiA show can attest, there’s nothing like hearing her perform live. SONiA’s released a handful of live recordings over the years with the double disc, 21-tracks Live at Maximal (soniadisappearfear.com), recorded at a sold-out solo show in Rodgau, Germany, being the latest and most ambitious. In addition to a pair of covers (Lennon’s “Imagine” and Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”), the songs are a cross-section of SONiA’s solo work (emphasizing on newer tunes including “The Banker,” “Love Out Loud,” “Farmland and the Sky,” “Biggest, Baddest Heart”), as well as early disappear fear favorites (“Sexual Telepathy” and “Washington Work Song”).
When prolific queer singer/songwriter Rachael Sage sings “Heaven (Is a Grocery Store Clerk),” the opening track on her new “ballet-pop” album Choreographic (MPress), we can’t help but believe her. She’s that certain of it. Singing about the “French doors” of her fearfulness on “French Doors,” Sage continues to grow in new and interesting ways. The fascinating rhythms of “Try Try Try” and “I Don’t Believe It,” as well as the commercial-power pop of “Learn to Let You Go” and “It Would Be Enough,” are good examples. If you didn’t know better, you might think the breakup song “Clear Today” was a vintage Elton John tune, while the strings on “Five Alarms” increase the heat of the song. The mournful “7 Angels,” also featuring a string section, includes lyrics sung in English and Hebrew. Sage’s reverent cover of Carole King’s “So Far Away” can be found as a bonus track on the iTunes version of Choreographic.
For a long time, making cool music for kids (and by extension the parents who often have to listen to it while, say, stuck in a car in traffic) has been the province of straight artists such as Barenaked Ladies, They Might Be Giants, Ralph’s World (Ralph Covert), Farmer Jason (Jason Ringenberg), and Dan Zanes, to name a few. In recent years, queer acts such as Django Jones (featuring ex-members of Girlyman) and Laura Doherty have proven that not only can LGBT folks start their own families, but they can also make family-friendly music, too. Add “electro-kindie” artist The Singing Lizard (aka Liz DeRoche) to the list, too. Club Called Awesome (Alphabeat), The Singing Lizard’s delightful third album, brings the beats to the party. Feel free to dance and sing along to “Peace Sign,” “Beat Bot the Robot,” “Chugga Chugga,” “Growing Up,” and “Celebrate.” The “who you are is wonderful” message of the album’s centerpiece “Be Yourself” is one to which queer folks of all ages can relate.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.