By Gregg Shapiro
What a career the late lesbian singer/songwriter Lesley Gore had! Beginning as a teenager in the early 1960s, produced by Quincy Jones, Gore had massive hits with “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and others. She appeared on the Batman TV series as a sidekick to arch-criminal Cat Woman (Julie Newmar) singing “California Nights” (co-written by Marvin Hamlisch!). In 1980, “Out Here on My Own,” a song she co-wrote with brother Michael, appeared in the movie Fame and went on to be nominated for an Oscar. A few years before Fame, Gore and Quincy Jones reunited for the 1975 album Love Me by Name (Real Gone/A&M), which has been reissued on CD with two bonus cuts. Backed up by an extraordinary assortment of musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Dave Grusin, the Brothers Johnson, Harvey Mason, Jim Keltner, and Tom Scott, Gore perfectly captures the spirit and mood of 1975 with early disco beats, pop novelty, and jazz fusion on “Sometimes,” “Paranoia,” “Immortality,” “Other Lady,” and “Along the Way.”
You know that line about someone singing the phone book and still sounding fantastic? Ruthie Foster is one such vocalist whose singing voice is so breathtaking that it almost doesn’t matter what she’s singing—we’d still listen. Fortunately, the songs on her new album Joy Comes Back (Blue Corn Music) pass the phone-book test. Foster brings joy to the empowerment blues of Grace Pettis’ “Working Woman,” the soulful Four Tops cover “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” and the country pop of Chris Stapleton’s “What Are You Listening To?” Her timely reinterpretation of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is especially profound.
No one could ever accuse Xiu Xiu of being accessible. But daringly experimental? Yes, always. Formed (and still led) by queer musician Jamie Stewart, Xiu Xiu challenges and rewards listeners on every album, sometimes even in the same song. Featuring a stellar lineup of guest artists, including drag legend Vaginal Davis, Forget (Polyvinyl), as it turns out, may actually be Xiu Xiu’s most broadly appealing release to date. “Get Up” is practically a pop song, while the adult language of the EDM/hip-hop hybrid of “The Call” has the potential to earn Xiu Xiu a whole new and diverse audience. There are even more dance beats to be found on the wondrous “Wondering” and the dramatic, unforgettable title cut. “Jenny Gogo” sounds like a tribute to the late Alan Vega and synth-minimalists Suicide, while “Queen of the Losers” pays homage to Low and Lodger-era Bowie.
Opening with the thrilling and aptly named “Dangerous,” the most perfect dance song of 2017 (so far), The xx takes its unique brand of electronic music to the next level on the incredible I See You (Young Turks). Out co-lead vocalist Romy Madley Croft ascends to dance-diva status on “Dangerous,” “I Dare You,” and “On Hold.” Fear not, The xx hasn’t abandoned the electro-atmospherics of its first two albums, as you can hear on “Say Something Loving,” “Lips,” “Test,” and “Brave for You.” The xx marks the spot.
On the exquisite Confessions (Nonesuch), queer composer Nico Muhly and Faroese singer/songwriter Teitur (Lassen) team up to create an album of haunting and lovely music that lingers in the atmosphere long after it has ended. Recorded with the Holland Baroque ensemble, these 14 achingly beautiful songs are an example of what occurs when unlikely collaborators come together on a project. Especially remarkable is how Muhly and Teitur still have room for playfulness in the midst of this stunning setting, as exemplified in the wonderful “Printer in the Morning” and “Don’t I Know You from Somewhere.” Very strongly recommended.
Almost 25 years after it debuted on Broadway, the William Finn/James Lapine gay musical Falsettos was revived in a new Broadway production starring Andrew Rannels, Christian Borle, and Stephanie J. Block. Combining the one-act musicals March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland into the first and second acts, Falsettos: 2016 Broadway Cast Recording (Ghostlight/Razor & Tie) begins in 1979 (with the classic opening number “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”) and continues over the course of 30 songs through 1981. Pre-dating Rent’s Broadway debut by a few years, Falsettos was one of the first musicals to incorporate the subject of AIDS into its premise.
Riot Grrrl goddesses Sleater-Kinney famously regrouped in 2015 for No Cities to Love, the band’s first studio album in 10 (!) years. While we patiently wait for another album (if there is one), we have the 13-track concert recording Live in Paris (Sub Pop). Recorded at La Cigale in 2015 during the band’s reunion tour, the disc naturally focuses on songs from the new album, but also generously includes beloved S-K tunes such as “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” “Dig Me Out,” “Start Together,” and “What’s Mine Is Yours.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.