Don’t judge these rising musical stars by the size of their labels
by Gregg Shapiro
Out singer/songwriter Chris Pureka has been peddling her brand of moody folk music for nearly 10 years. Think Mary Gauthier, minus the occasional twang. With each album, including the fittingly named How I Learned to See in the Dark (Sad Rabbit), Pureka continues to mature as both a songwriter and performer. Opener “Wrecking Ball,” from which the disc’s title is drawn, sets the atmosphere, with its mournful fiddle, courtesy of Merrill Garbus. Songs with titles such as “Hangman” and “Shipwreck” maintain the aura, as you might surmise. But by “Barn Song,” the darkness begins to show signs of lightening, although the rhythmic “Broken Clock” casts a shadow. The bouncy “Lowlands” shows a Springsteen influence.
Renowned for her work as a touring and session musician, drummer Allison Miller steps up with her instrumental jazz effort Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven). Surrounding herself with other outstanding musicians, Miller capably drums her way through a set that includes four originals and four covers. Highlights include Miller’s own experimental “CFS (Candy Flavored Sidewalks)” and sexy “Big Lovely,” as well as her intimate reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair.”
With their respective albums, The Magician’s Private Library (XL) and No Snare (K), Holly Miranda and Tender Forever (a.k.a. Melanie Valera) take their places as lesbians in the hipster milieu. Produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Miranda’s album would be right at home alongside the latest by Gorillaz or Broken Bells or Mumford & Sons. The hot and cool vibe is strong throughout, beginning with the organic shuffle of “Forest Green Oh Forest Green” and continuing through the dreamy and loose “Joints” to the faintly exotic whiff of “No One Just Us,” the ’60s pop of “Sweet Dreams” and the subliminal surf
of “High Tide,” Holly Miranda knows she has the right to make nearly indescribably magical music.
Valera, who works under the name Tender Forever, established herself as an artist with an appreciation for electronic beats. The beats are still present on tracks such as “Like the Snare That’s Gone,” “Nothing at All,” “But the Shape Is Wide,” and “When I’m in the Dark and You Take the Light.” But the whole thing feels more organic, less programmed. Like the tree and grass on the album cover, No Snare sounds like a musician, Valera, going green while keeping things fresh, if you will, for the listeners.
The busy queer music scene in Chicago is exemplified by Katie Todd and Shelley Miller. Both women have productive careers and can regularly be found performing in the numerous live music venues that dot the city. The gorgeous title track of Mumbled Speech (Level It), the latest disc by Katie Todd, is a perfect example of the kind of near-flawless pop ballad songwriting skills of which she is in possession. She also has admirable taste in cover material with her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s oft recorded “Hallelujah.” Shelley Miller, sounding like Chicago’s answer to Chris Pureka and Mary Gauthier, returns with her solid and strong When It’s All Gone, You Come Back (shellymiller.net), on which she strikes the right balance between torch and twang.
As original and unusual concepts go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that can top all-female trio Girl in a Coma’s Adventures in Coverland (Blackheart). Consisting of three seven-inch vinyl singles, whose jackets join together to form a game board, the set features Girl in a Coma covering the Beatles (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), Joy Division (“Transmission”), Velvet Underground (“Femme Fatale”), and Patsy Cline (“Walking After Midnight”), and others, all performed in the band’s distinctive garage-punk style.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.