Hunx (aka Seth Bogart) isn’t through surprising and thrilling us quite yet. From his (dark) roots in the queer-electro act Gravy Train!!!! to his solo work (Hairdresser Blues is a queer-pop must) to his mind-blowing turn as the front man of gay garage band Hunx & His Punx, he has lots of tricks up his leather-jacket sleeve. Cranking up the volume and mood he set on Hunx & His Punx’s lo-fi 2011 debut Too Young to Be in Love, Hunx goes straight for your eardrums on the aptly titled Street Punk (Hardly Art). Reduced to a trio (from a quintet), what Hunx & His Punx lack in numbers they make up for in sheer volume and aggression. Hunx shares visceral vocal duties with bass player Shannon Shaw, and they run through a slew of emotions over the course of a dozen songs that penetrate the listener like the needle of a tattoo gun. From the (ga)rage of “Everyone’s a Pussy,” “Don’t Call Me Fabulous,” and “Kill Elaine,” to lighter fare such as “Born Blonde” and sophisticated cuts including “Mud in Your Eyes” and “You Think You’re Tough,” Street Punk earns its street cred.
Michael Stipe, of R.E.M., along with Fred Schneider and the late Ricky Wilson, of B52’s, weren’t the only gay boys in American bands in the heyday of college and alternative rock. Richard Barone (of New Jersey’s college rock pioneers The Bongos) and Michael Quercio (of L.A.’s paisley underground forebears The Three O’Clock) made their presence felt as well. Both Barone’s and Quercio’s bands recently reunited for special shows and have released new discs.
The Bongos’ unreleased late-’80s album Phantom Train (Jem) is finally seeing the light of day some twenty-five years after it was recorded. To the band’s credit, the disc is full of timeless tunes including “I Belong to Me” (which first appeared on Barone’s acclaimed live solo debut Cool Blue Halo), the rhythmic “One Bold Stroke,” and a cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” The Hidden World Revealed (Omnivore) by The Three O’Clock is a twenty-track compilation featuring ten of the band’s classic tunes, a number of which are drawn from their acclaimed debut album Sixteen Tambourines. The remainder consists of previously unreleased alternate and demo versions, including the luminous “When Lightning Starts.”
In 1984, a pair of well-received independently released EPs by Tommy Keene helped to establish the out singer/songwriter as a strong player in the college rock realm. In the years that followed, Keene released a series of albums on major and highly regarded indie record labels. His new album, Excitement at Your Feet (Second Motion), is a reverent set of cover tunes written by an assortment of artists. Keene succeeds in making the songs, including Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Puppet,” Mink DeVille’s “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” “Catch the Wind” by Donovan (is there a pattern here?), Television’s “Guiding Light,” Big Star’s “Nighttime,” and Roxy Music’s “Out of the Blue,” his own.
From the sound of it, Susan Werner hasn’t taken off the cowboy boots she slipped on for her 2011 album Kicking the Beehive. The twang is still intact on her latest, the aptly titled Hayseed (Sleeve Dog/Thirty Tigers). Werner, who has a gift for finding a balance between the humorous and the serious, continues to do so on this album. Hayseed, with its farmer theme, opens with the sly wink of “City Kids” and then turns more serious on “Snowmobiles.” Werner brings a smile to our lips on “Herbicides,” “Iowa,” and “Egg Money,” while songs such as “While You Wait for the Rain,” “Something to Be Said,” and “Plant the Stars” are good examples of her somber side.
Like Werner, lesbian singer/songwriter Jamie Anderson knows the value of humor and appreciates the impact of the dramatic. “Run,” from Anderson’s latest disc Dare (Tsunami), a song about discouraging a friend from getting involved with the wrong woman (and includes the line “listen to us now/you’ve got to let her go/yeah, she’s great in bed/don’t ask how we know”) and features a petition “signed by everyone,” is one of the funniest songs she’s ever written. Humor abounds on “Yoga Teacher” and “Menopause Mambo.” But don’t let the laughs fool you— Anderson knows how to move us, too, on “Mamaw’s Roses,” “The Boy Wanted to Fly,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “Hold Me.”
The late drag legend and actor Divine is the subject of the marvelous doc I Am Divine. Divine’s career as a dance music artist during the mid-’80s is highlighted in the film. The import reissue disc Maid in England (Cherry Pop) features some of Divine’s biggest hi-NRG club hits including “You Think You’re a Man,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “I’m So Beautiful,” all performed in Divine’s own “distinctive singing style.” The fifteen-track disc includes three bonus tracks, 12-inch mixes of the aforementioned songs.
Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz, two of the greatest living creators of Broadway musicals, have more in common than just their first name. Gay Sondheim and straight Schwartz had two of their musicals revived in 2013, and wouldn’t you know it, they both had one-word titles beginning with the letter P. Schwartz’s Pippin: New Broadway Cast Recording (Ghostlight), the first revival of the musical in more than twenty years, received Tony and Drama Desk awards. Containing some of Schwartz’s most beloved compositions, including “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “Morning Glow,” and “No Time at All” (performed by Andrea Martin), this is an essential cast recording and a fine companion to the original that starred Ben Vereen and the late Irene Ryan and Jill Clayburgh. A far more serious musical, Sondheim’s Passion: 2013 New York Cast Recording (PS Classics) starred Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker in a story of love and obsession set in Italy in the 1860s.
A longtime supporter and ally of the LGBT community, musician Kathleen Hanna has a talent for surrounding herself with talented queer people. Beginning with her band Bikini Kill (a leader in the riot grrrl scene originating in the Pacific Northwest) and followed by the groundbreaking all-female electro act (featuring out lesbian J.D. Samson) and her revived project The Julie Ruin, Hanna is still a hero in feminist and queer circles. Run Fast (TJR/Dischord) by The Julie Ruin, featuring gay musician Kenny Mellman (of Kiki & Herb fame), has a punk energy that the aforementioned Hunx could admire. Songs such as “Oh Come On,” “Ha Ha Ha,” “Party City,” “Kids in NY,” and “Stop Stop” indicate that Hanna hasn’t lost her riotous grrrl edge. She sounds like the kid sister of Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry on the amazing “Just My Kind,” while “Cookie Road” recalls LeTigre, and “Goodnight Goodbye” would not be out of place on an Imperial Teen record.
The aforementioned J.D. Samson stayed faithful to the dance aspect of LeTigre and expanded on it in a more accessible way in her dance band MEN. MEN’s 2011 full-length debut Talk about Body was a full-on queer dance party, and its follow-up Labor (MEN MAKE MUSIC) works hard to maintain the momentum on dance-floor delights such as “All the Way Thru,” “Club Thang,” “(She),” “Neon Poles,” and “F–ked Up.” Employing all the grooviest modern dance beats, MEN doesn’t lose sight of its message-music mission, as on “Next.” Songs on Labor feature lyrics that comment on art, sex, culture, sex, class, gender identity, relationships, sex, feminism, and more, making it a Labor of love and loathing.
Trans musicians are rapidly moving to the forefront of the LGBT music scene. Singer/writer/academic/activist/performer Elias Krell, formerly of the Homoticons, steps out on his own with the self-titled disc by his new band Elias Krell & the No Good. The ten songs are Krell’s “first serious attempt to explore a through-line” between the jazz and blues vocalists of the mid-twentieth century and contemporary female singer/songwriters. Interestingly, two of the covers are of songs by gay male singer/songwriters Rufus Wainwright (“Vibrate”) and Stephin Merritt (“This Little Ukulele”). The best of the originals includes the instrumental “Won’t Help You Dance” (in which Krell’s accordion plays a prominent role) and “Averay.” Laura Love-approved Bay Area-based indie folk singer/songwriter Eli Conley describes himself as “an out gay transgender man.” You can hear Conley’s Virginia roots in his voice and in his lyrics throughout his Indiegogo-funded debut album At the Seams (eliconley.com). In fact, the Commonwealth gets name-checked in the song “Dry as Sin.”
That’s lesbian drummer Nikki Glaspie pounding the skins on Dirty Word (Louisiana Red Hot), the second studio effort by jammy and funky New Orleans-based musical outfit Dumpstaphunk. Teamed up with younger Nevilles Ivan and Ian, Glaspie, who also provides vocals, makes her drums speak a language all their own. Glaspie and company are joined by fellow queer New Orleans resident Ani DiFranco on the title cut, and that’s Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea on the blistering “If I’m in Luck.” “Raise the House” does just that, and “They Don’t Care,” the most poppy track, is a must.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.