Gay poet Jeremy Reed has a thing for collaboration. He collaborated with queer music legend Marc Almond (Soft Cell) on the book Picadilly Bongo. A song with the same title opens Big City Dilemma (SFE/Cherry Red) by Reed & The Ginger Light (aka musician/producer Itchy Ear). “Ambiguously gay” and “gender bent,” as Reed says in “Nifty Jim.” The spoken-word-with-instrumentation combination works well with Reed’s poetry, which the poet reads with great authority and accessibility.
Delivering on and surpassing the promise of its 2011 debut, Mount Moriah—currently a trio featuring out lesbian Heather McEntire, Jenks Miller, and new addition Casey Toll—burns it down on Miracle Temple (Merge). Sounding like an insurgent country band fronted by a young Dolly Parton, Mount Moriah lures us upward with “Younger Days” and then nearly blinds us with the flash of “Bright Light.” That’s Indigo Girl Amy Ray providing backing vocals on “I Built a Town,” “Connecticut to Carolina,” and the bluesy gospel of “Miracle Temple Holiness.” “White Sands” would sound great blasting out of a radio at the beach, and the same can be said of the fragrant “Rosemary” (love that keyboard and those backup vocals!).
Now a little something for the bears! Gay and Southern, Nakia has been winning and collecting fans, including CeeLo Green, wherever he goes. Big and bearded with a voice that raises goose bumps, Nakia comes ashore with the six-song EP Drown in the Crimson Tide (nakia.net), a taste and a teaser meant to hold us over until he raises enough funds for his full-length album. Anyone looking for a reason to contribute to the cause on his website need look no further than his mind-blowing numbers such as “Make Up with a Gun,” the barn-burner “Pieces and Castles” and the brass blast of “Walking on a Slant.” Don’t hesitate—donate!
Banjo-plucking and -strumming Dar Stellabotta brings an aching quality that recalls Mary Gauthier to her ten songs on The Black Owl Demos (darstellabotta.com). Not to be taken lightly, these almost unrelentingly bleak songs offer up an unsettling portrait of small-town queer life. “Black Soul,” “Your Worry Today,” and “O What a Day,” for instance, unveil a litany of difficulties that would take down the average person. But Stellabotta’s message seems to be that these challenges not only strengthen her, but provide her with the material she needs to create her art. Album closer “Huntingtown” breaks up some of the monotony with a pleasant beat that fits its theme.
If not for the groundbreaking all-female rock band Fanny, many female musicians, gay and straight, might not have gotten the chance to rock out. The hard-rocking quartet, featuring lesbian music legend June Millington and her sister Jean (see, sisterhood is powerful!), broke all sorts of ground, including releasing an album on a major label in 1970 (!) and working with an in-demand producer such as Richard Perry (now known as Jane Fonda’s beau). But what really matters is that they were top-notch musicians, performing (mostly) original material—including knockouts such as “Come and Hold Me,” “I Just Realized,” “Seven Roads,” and “Conversation with a Cop”—on their self-titled debut disc, newly reissued by Real Gone Music.
Moody Brit-pop group The xx were already too cool for words before Romy Madley Croft came out as lesbian. But now that there is the addition of the queer factor, it just makes you love them more, doesn’t it? The xx, now a trio, has a distinctive, immediately recognizable sound that has become their trademark over the course of two brilliant albums. The latest, the aptly titled Coexist (XL/Young Turks), is as darkly ethereal as its predecessor, although it does take its time serving up the sexy beats of “Swept Away” and “Sunset.” Nevertheless, songs such as “Angels” and “Reunion” make the journey worthwhile.
Also high on the hipness scale, Grizzly Bear, featuring out vocalist Ed Droste, had the challenge of following up their unexpectedly successful 2009 album Veckatimest with Shields (Warp). The good news is that they met the challenge head-on and don’t disappoint listeners. Album opener “Sleeping Ute” is a twenty-first-century prog-rock tune, and “Speak in Rounds” is one of Grizzly Bear’s most exhilarating songs. Further highlights include the irresistible “A Simple Answer,” as well as “Gun-Shy” and “Yet Again.”
Believe it or not, gay poet and folk singer Rod McKuen turns eighty in 2013. To commemorate the event, a pair of his best known recordings, Listen to the Warm (RCA Victor/Stanyan/Real Gone Music) and Sold Out at Carnegie Hall (Stanyan/ WB 7 Arts/Real Gone Music) have been reissued in expanded CD editions. Not much of a singer (he makes Leonard Cohen sound like Pavarotti) or a poet (he makes Maya Angelou sounds like Frank O’Hara), McKuen nevertheless made important contributions to contemporary popular music and culture. He is, after all, the man who brought Jacques Brel to the attention of the American public. Hardcore Maggie Smith fans may recognize McKuen as the man who wrote “Jean,” the theme song from Smith’s Oscar-winning turn in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. McKuen is also responsible for the sappy mid-1970s chart-topper “Seasons in the Sun” (originally recorded by Terry Jacks).
Also “out” there: The prolific Melissa Ferrick returns with The Truth Is (MPress) on which she explores her torch-and-twang side on “Wreck Me” (featuring Paula Cole); Book of Shadows (daniellink.com) by Daniel Link, featuring a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Save Me a Place” and ten originals; gay Canadian cowboy (!) Drake Jensen’s third CD OUTlaw (drakejensen.ca); Chicago-based singer/songwriter Stephen Leonard’s latest His Fire (stephenleonardmusic.com); Three Black Nights of Little Black Bites (Cherry Red), a limited edition live CD/DVD set from 1983 performed by Marc Almond’s esoteric and daring side project Marc & The Mambas.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.