The Belle Brigade is a brother/sister duo with excellent genes. Siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska are the grandchildren of composer John Williams. Of course, The Belle Brigade’s music doesn’t really sound anything like their famous grandpa’s compositions (you’re not disappointed, are you?). Instead, out lesbian Barbara and her brother Ethan make sun-soaked modern pop music that is appealing and evocative. The Belle Brigade’s second disc Just Because (ATO) begins with deceptively upbeat and rhythmic numbers such as “Ashes” and “When Everything Was What It Was,” before diving head first into the substance-abuse subject matter of “Likely to Use Something.” The pair shares lead vocals on “Be Like Him,” with a nod to queerness. “Miss You in My Life” and “How I See It,” two songs on which Ethan takes the lead, are worth mentioning, as is “Not the One You Want.”
More than 20 years and nearly a dozen studio albums into her recording career, in-demand bass player and unique singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello is still able to surprise and delight us, as she does on her blazing new album Comet, Come to Me (Naïve). Opening with a pure Ndegeocello cover of Whodini’s “Friends,” she not only revives the song for new ears, but also makes it her very own in the process. Comet, Come to Me burns brightly and beautifully throughout, but especially on “Good Day Bad,” “Tom,” “Shopping for Jazz,” “Folie a Deux,” the dreamy title song, and even “Conviction,” the best song the Rolling Stones never wrote.
A new iteration of the late, lamented queer quartet Girlyman, Django Jones features the trio JJ Jones, Doris Muramatsu, and Nate Borofsky. The new name also brings about a new direction on the debut album D Is for Django (djangojonesband.com). The 15 songs on the album are geared toward “kids and families.” Of course, there are all kinds of families, including those with two moms or two dads, so the LGBT appeal remains intact. A dozen of the songs get a spoken intro, ranging from six to 59 seconds in length, and the songs themselves have many of the same elements that made Girlyman such a fan favorite.
Jess Klein, who belts like a queer Joan Osborne, teaches us a thing or two on her new disc Learning Faith (Motherlode). For example, when she elaborates on why she’s “So F–king Cool,” on the song of the same name, we have no choice but to believe her. Learning Faith also finds Klein singing about “sweet acceptance” on “Surrender,” making an effort to separate church from state in “If There’s a God,” and doing something similar on her “Dear God” (not XTC’s), about a woman’s dwindling right to choose. Thank the goddess for Jess Klein.
Mary Gauthier is our resident expert on the trouble with love, so it’s apropos that she titled her new album Trouble and Love (In The Black). Still the reigning lesbian Lucinda Williams, Gauthier has brought us down low with her before. However, the depths here are deeper, and yet it’s hard to resist traveling this painful path with Gauthier. Singing and writing with more authority than ever, you believe every word (and emotion) Gauthier sings on the title tune, as well as “When a Woman Goes Cold,” “Oh Soul,” the ache of “Worthy,” “Another Train,” and “How You Learn to Love Alone.” More authentically and traditionally country than poseur Taylor Swift, Nashville and the rest of the country music community would be wise to pay more attention, and do it soon.
Allison Weiss follows up her impressive 2013 full-length disc Say What You Mean with the five-song EP Remember When (No Sleep). In addition to an acoustic cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (brava, Allison, for seeing the queer potential in the tune), original tunes such as “Remember When” and “The Fall” make Weiss an unforgettable talent.
Prolific singer/songwriter Rachael Sage also goes the EP route with her latest release New Destination (MPress). Sage definitely sounds like she’s moving toward a new destination on the innovative title cut and the marvelous “Wax.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.