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NEW MUSIC: Queer Sisterhood Is Powerful

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Meshell Ndegeocello, Mary Gauthier, Tave Lo, Michelle Malone, and more.

GrooveOUT
By Gregg Shapiro

C

o-produced by Allison Zatarain and legendary songwriter/producer Richard Gottehrer, the 10-song vinyl LP Instant Love Volume 1 (Instant Records) is intended to celebrate “the power of love between women, mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers.” A reimagining of classic love songs by musical acts such as Billy Joel (“She’s Got a Way,” sung by Lolo Zouai), The Beach Boys (“Don’t Worry Baby,” done by Rachel Fannan), and The Kinks (“You Really Got Me,” covered by Cavale). Highlights include Erika Spring (of Au Revoir Simone) performing “Colours” by Donovan, Holly Miranda’s reading of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” Irma Thomas’ rendition of “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, Nicole Atkins singing “Amy” by Ryan Adams, and jazz vocalist Karen Souza’s version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Looking forward to volume 2 and others to follow. 

While we’re on the subject of cover tunes, the always-brilliant lesbian singer/songwriter and bassist extraordinaire Meshell Ndegeocello (who paid tribute to Nina Simone on 2012’s Pour Une Âme Souveraine and has been including covers on more recent albums) has just put out the cleverly titled Ventriloquism (All Points/Believe). Ndegeocello reimagines 11 songs, originally released between 1982 and 1994, in her own distinctive style, and the results are breathtaking. Some renditions stick closer to the originals than others—as in the case of Ndegeocello’s readings of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” (from 1986), Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam featuring Full Force’s “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” and Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day” (both from 1988)—yet she manages to maintain her distinctive style. Some of the most exciting moments occur on deconstructed versions of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” (from 1982), Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity” (from 1990), Sade’s “Smooth Operator” (from 1984), Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun),” and Force MD’s “Tender Love.” Brava, diva!

Is it too early in the year to begin assembling a “best of” list? If not, the Ndegeocello disc certainly qualifies—as does the devastating Rifles & Rosary Beads (In the Black/Thirty Tigers) by lesbian singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, which is a product of Gauthier’s association with Darden Smith’s nonprofit organization SongwritingWith:Soldiers, in which soldiers are teamed up with professional songwriters. For Gauthier’s album, she collaborated with both male and female soldiers for a majority of the tracks. Two of the songs, including the devastating “The War after the War,” were written by military wives whose soldier-husbands returned from the battlefield wounded. Gauthier, who is a sort of queer Lucinda Williams, has a history of bringing listeners to tears (check out 2010’s The Foundling), but Rifles & Rosary Beads takes that ability to a whole new level. [Editor’s note: Mary Gauthier performs at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston on June 1.]

Certain to earn queer musician Joan As Police Woman (aka Joan Wasser) a larger devoted following, her smoky and soulful new album Damned Devotion (PIAS) is the latest from an artist who follows her own inviting path. Arresting numbers such as the title cut, “Steed (for Jean Genet),” “Tell Me,” “Wandering Bell,” “What Was It Like,” “Rely On,” “Silly Me,” and “I Don’t Mind” don’t sound like anyone or anything else. Joan As Police makes indescribably delicious music, and she doesn’t need to flash her badge to do it.

No one could ever accuse Swedish pop goddess Tove Lo of slacking off. Two years may have passed between 2014’s Queen of the Clouds and 2016’s Lady Wood, but 2017’s BLUE LIPS (Lady Wood Phase II) arrived a year later, and continues the frank (bi)sexuality of its predecessor. How frank? Just listen to “shivering gold” and “bitches” as a couple of examples.

Featuring lesbian bass player Laura Lee, the trio Khruangbin touches down with its second album Con Todo El Mundo (Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories). A mostly instrumental affair that sounds as timeless as it does of the moment, Con Todo El Mundo could be the soundtrack to a night of passionate lovemaking, a hipster loft party, or a dinner with old friends. Seriously, can’t you just picture your friends dancing in their brightly colored stocking feet to “Maria También,” “Evan Finds the Third Room,” or “Como Me Quieres”?

It might seem hard to believe, but Atlanta-based lesbian singer/songwriter Michelle Malone has been putting out albums for 30 (!) years. Her latest, Slings & Arrows (SBS Records), finds her getting political on “Love Yourself” and “Just Getting Started.” For someone who’s been at it as long as Malone has, it’s nice that she’s still able to surprise and thrill us—as she does with her cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” a duet with Shawn (“Lullaby”) Mullins.

On SweetSexySavage (Atlantic), the debut disc by queer R&B artist Kehlani, listeners go on a grand tour of the various styles of contemporary black music, including hip-hop-influenced modern soul. It’s a strong and memorable first album whose highlights are the songs “Thank You,” “Advice,” “Hold Me by the Heart,” “Get Like,” and “Too Much.”

The song “Shameful Feeling,” described as being about “the journey of coming out of hiding, rising above painful adolescent memories, and learning to shut out fears and self-doubt” within a “queer context,” is a powerful track near the center of the six-song EP Garage Sale (carryillinoisband.com) by Carry Illinois, led by lesbian singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman. “Goodnight,” the album’s heart-tugging closing track, deals with the suicide of original band member John Winsor, and is a stunning tribute.

The five-song EP Freedom Girl (livlombardi.com) is the latest release by genderqueer singer/songwriter Liv Lombardi, who divides her time between NYC and Santa Fe. The all-female punk-blues quintet Jane Lee Hooker features two queer band members. The 10 tracks on its new album, Spiritus (Ruf), are loud and proud. 

This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine. 

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Gregg Shapiro

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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