For your queer ears
by Gregg Shapiro
The best part of Clint Eastwood’s unnecessary film adaptation of Jersey Boys? Adorable Mike Doyle’s flaming portrayal of queer songwriter and all-around music legend Bob Crewe. Crewe, who wrote hit songs for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, in addition to others, and even had his own hit with the Herb Alpert rip-off instrumental “Music to Watch Girls Go By” in the mod mid-1960s. Neither of Crewe’s two albums from the 1970s, Street Talk (credited to The Bob Crewe Generation) and Motivation, did much for his cause. Newly reissued in the double-disc set The Complete Elektra Recordings (Real Gone Music), both albums deserve another chance—especially Street Talk. An early disco affair (from 1976, just before disco broke), arriving on the glittery heels of Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” (co-written by Crewe), “Broadway-bound disco-rock ballet” Street Talk is one of the great, underrated gay masterpieces of the disco era. The camp epic tells the story of fresh-off-the-bus-from-Nebraska “Cherry Boy,” whose ass is his “ticket to paradise,” featuring songs such as “Ménage à Trois,” “Back Alley Boogie,” and “Ah Men,” all to a vintage disco beat.
Speaking of reissues, queer twin sisters Tegan and Sara (recently seen on the Oscars performing “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie) celebrate the 10th anniversary of their commercial breakthrough album So Jealous with the stunningly packaged So Jealous X (Vapor/Warner Bros.). Included in the set is the original album, a bonus disc of remixes, demos, B-side demos, covers of their songs performed by The White Stripes and others, and the concert DVD It’s Not Fun. Don’t Do It. The accompanying full-color book is full of illuminating text and photos. Even more importantly, songs such as “Walking with a Ghost,” “Where Does the Good Go,” the title cut, and “Take Me Anywhere,” hold up well 10 years later, although there was no doubt that that would be so.
Exquisitely packaged, but in a different way, single gay dad Ricky Martin returns with A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Sony Music Latin), a new album sung entirely in Spanish. You don’t have to speak a word of Español to get a feeling for what Martin is attempting to get across on songs such as the (international) house of “Adios,” the ballad “Perdóname,” and the rhythmic dance numbers, including “Isla Bella” and “La Mordidita.” The bandeon on “Cuánto Me Acuerro De Ti” and the banjo on “Disparo al Corazón” are also not to be missed. The deluxe edition includes three bonus versions of songs on the album.
Most people will recognize Kate Pierson’s face and voice from her role as one of the vocalists in the beloved pioneering new-wave pop phenomenon known as the B52s. As one of the group’s five original members (four of whom identified as queer), Pierson’s dynamic vocal range helped to make songs such as “Roam,” “Love Shack,” and others so unforgettable. Stepping out on her own for the first time on Guitars and Microphones (Lazy Meadow), Pierson teams up with the ubiquitous Sia (Furler), who acted as executive producer, co-wrote all but one song on the album, and performs alongside Pierson on some of the tracks. Stomping showstopper opener “Throwing Down the Roses” gets things started on an energetic note. Trans anthem “Mister Sister” might well be embraced by LGBT folks simply as a song for anyone who feels “betrayed by the mirror.” Other knockout tunes include “Bottoms Up,” “Time Wave Zero,” and the ballad “Pulls You Under.”
Victor Krummenacher’s name might not roll off your tongue, but you probably know Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, two of the bands with which he has been closely associated. On Hard to See Trouble Coming (Veritas), Krummenacher’s latest solo release, he begins with the bluesy title cut and then shifts to an Americana mood on tunes such as “If I Could Only Close My Eyes,” “Chemtrails,” “The Love of My Dreams,” and “The Kildalton Cross.” Krummenacher also rocks out on “If You Won’t Break My Heart, I Don’t Stand a Chance” and goes for queer Tejana flair on “Tennessee & Pancho.”
Sleater-Kinney goes from riot grrrls to riot womyn on No Cities to Love (Sub Pop), the queer trio’s breathtaking first album of new material in 10 (!) years. Perhaps the most accessible (read commercially viable) album of the band’s 20-year career, No Cities to Love proves that the time between albums hasn’t dulled Sleater-Kinney’s social consciousness, as you can hear on opener “Price Tag,” “Bury Our Friends” and “No Anthems.” “Fangless” is a legitimate dance track, and they even conjure Chrissie Hynde on “Hey Darling.” Only the closer “Fade” recalls the bombast of 2005’s The Woods. Comeback-of-the-year credit (so far) goes to Sleater-Kinney.
Matt Zarley’s ambitious hopefulRomantic (Dylan Music Group) project is an album intended to accompany the award-winning short film of the same name. The “complete set” edition of the disc includes both the 11-track soundtrack and the 9-track “pop album.” Songs such as “Constantly,” “Back to You,” “Let Me Go,” and “I Just Knew” are in a modern musical-theater vein, while a dance-pop cut such as “Somebody for Everybody” is custom-made for club play.
Formerly romantically linked, but still creatively teamed, THEESatisfaction (aka Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons) is back with Earthee (Sub Pop), finding inspiration in “Earth, Humanity, Reality, and Insanity.” Cosmic as Eryka Badu and grounded as Meshell Ndegocello (who plays bass on “Universal Perspective” and “WerQ”), THEESatisfaction makes statement music on a higher plane with tracks such as “No GMO,” “Planet for Sale,” and “Post Black, Anyway.” “Blandland” is anything but, although the Hitler Youth reference is more than a little off-putting.
Throughout Johnny Mathis’ lengthy career that began in the late 1950s (!), the celebrated crooner has been known to occasionally divert from the unexpected path (see 2010’s Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville). The double-disc compilation with bonus tracks Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions (Real Gone Music) is another example. Teaming up with the legendary record producer and songwriter Thom Bell (who also worked with Elton John on 1979’s The Thom Bell Sessions EP), Mathis incorporated the popular Philadelphia sound into his repertoire on the albums I’m Coming Home (from 1973) and Mathis Is (from 1977). With songs mainly co-written by Bell and his collaborator Linda Creed, I’m Coming Home is notable for Mathis’ renditions of “I’m Stone in Love with You” and “Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart),” songs made popular by The Stylistics, as well as the hit single “Life Is a Song Worth Singing.” In the case of the expanded Mathis Is, highlights include the soothing “Lullaby of Love,” and his renditions of “Betcha by Golly Wow,” “Break Up to Make Up,” as well as a duet with Patti Austin on “You Brought Me Love.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.