Happy Gay and Lesbian History Month! The latest crop of releases by queer artists, from the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, should get you through the end of the year with no trouble.
Even if all the proceeds, 'after costs,' from the sale of Wig In A Box: Songs From & Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch ( Off Records ) didn't go to The Hetrick-Martin Institute: Home of the Harvey Milk School ( 'the oldest and largest not-for-profit, multi-service agency dedicated to serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth' ) , it would still be a pretty spectacular project. But the fact that all these artists recorded these songs for this 'charity album,' makes it almost too thrilling for words. Rufus Wainwright takes the wig out of the box on 'The Origin Of Love,' and is followed by Sleater-Kinney & Fred Schneider ( 'Angry Inch' ) , They Might Be Giants ( 'The Long Grift' ) , Frank Black ( 'Sugar Daddy' ) , Imperial Teen ( 'Freaks' ) , Bob Mould ( 'Nailed' ) , The Polyphonic Spree ( 'Wig In A Box' ) , Spoon ( 'Tear Me Down' ) , Yoko Ono & Yo La Tengo ( 'Hedwig's Lament/Exquisite Corpse' ) , Ben Folds, Ben Lee and Ben Kweller ( the Tommy Gnosis version of 'Wicked Little Town' ) , and Cyndi Lauper & The Minus 5 ( 'Midnight Radio' ) , and even Hedwig masterminds John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask ( 'Milford Lake' ) , to name just a few. Off Records head Chris Slusarenko must be commended for working with Mitchell and Trask on this worthwhile and very entertaining project.
Do you hear that? It's the sound of queer punk band Super 8 Cum Shot kicking the sophomore slump in its tight, hairless ass with its superior second album Super 8 Cum Shot Volume II ( Big Dixie ) . You can hear echoes of Super 8 Cum Shot Volume I on Volume II, particularly in the way that each song is preceded by a snippet from a porno movie. It also fulfills the promise of the original disc by expanding the sexual themes with raunchy humor ( 'Oh Daddy,' featuring a son asking his father about his sexual exploits while incarcerated and protecting one's assets in 'Check Your Nuts' ) , while also looking a wasted trick squarely in his bloodshot eyes and showing him to the door ( 'Homo Go Home' ) . 'I Love A Boy' and 'I Wanna Make Love To You' are gay punk rock in its purest and queerest form, and 'Everybody Loves A Muscle Boi' is the eagerly anticipated sequel to Volume I's 'Hollywood Beach.'
Peaches sings 'I don't have to make the choice/I like girls and I like boys' on 'I U She,' a kinky bisexuality mantra from her new album Fatherfucker ( Kitty-Yo/ XL/Beggars Group ) , the eagerly anticipated follow-up to The Teaches of Peaches. Expertly straddling the worlds of punk, hip-hop and electroclash in, I would imagine, thigh-high platform boots, Peaches is even riper on this album than she was before. Stomping in on opening track 'I Don't Give A…,' Peaches spits a pit in our eyes as she rants 'I don't give a fuck' over Joan Jett's 'Bad Reputation.' She raps about her labia majora, 'soft as angora' and knocking us out 'like Rocky Balboa.' She goes head to head with Iggy Pop on 'Kick It,' on which they quote each other like old friends. Once again, Peaches sends it out to the men, boys, girls, women and ladies on 'Shake Yer Dix.' She duets with Taylor Savvy on 'Stuff Me Up,' on which they encourage the listener to 'eat a cookie/eat a big dick everyday' and 'eat a cookie/eat a big clit everyday,' and sings the praises of anal sex for men on 'Back It Up, Boys.'
Bisexuality is also the focus of Bi The People: A Compilation of Bisexual Artists & Friends ( Violent Yodel ) . Compiled by Skott Freedman, who also contributed the track 'The Price You Paid,' the various artists' disc benefits national, nonprofit organization The Bisexual Foundation. Other contributors include Jill Sobule ( the sexy and funny 'Saw A Cop,' about being pulled over by a female police officer ) , Laura Love ( 'If You Leave Me' ) , Melissa Ferrick ( 'Fighting Chance' ) , Bitch And Animal ( the Eminem slamming 'Secret Candy' ) , notorious bisexual Tom Robinson ( 'Boy Girl' ) , Jewel tour opening act Anne Heaton ( 'Black Notebook' ) , Pansy Division ( the oldie 'Luv Luv Luv' ) , Carol Burnett's daughter and bi disco diva Erin Hamilton ( a dance cover of Kiki Dee's 'I've Got The Music In Me' ) , queer Celtic artist Ashley MacIsaac ( 'Sleepy Maggie,' with vocals by Mary Jane Lamond ) , openly gay American Idol contestant Jim Verraros ( 'I Want You' ) and the ubiquitous Rachael Sage ( 'What If' ) , among others.
The Pie-Love Sky ( Big Head ) by openly bisexual singer/songwriter Jodi Shaw was produced by Steve Addabbo, who co-produced Suzanne Vega's first two albums. It's hard not to draw comparisons between Shaw and Vega ( even to Natalie Merchant, whom Shaw sounds like on 'The Forger' and 'Kristine's Lullaby' ) , but Shaw does emerge as her own person throughout. From her acoustic interpretation of Yaz's 'Only You' ( Ms. Shaw, you have excellent taste in cover material ) to original folk tracks such as 'The President Knows,' 'In Cabrini-Green' and 'Is,' to the drum loops of anti-folk tunes such as 'Dumbo's Feather' and 'Out of Love,' the 'Pie-Love Sky''s the limit.
Creative and life partners Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt return with their group Matmos's latest effort The Civil War ( Matador ) . After working with some other 'high profile' artists and the release of Drew's wonderful The Soft Pink Truth side project, the electronic sound collagists once again set a higher standard for the genre with this album that touches on the American Civil War, the 1660 English Civil War and civil wars closer to home. Those are bagpipes and a tin whistle on 'Z.O.C.K.,' but I bet you never thought you'd hear them in this setting. 'Reconstruction' is more like a deconstruction and 'Y.T.T.E.' finally gives those waiting for a chance to dance to get up and do so. Matmos's interpretation of 'The Stars And Stripes Forever' has the potential to inspire flag waving in even the most unpatriotic listener, or marching at the very least.
Openly gay JS Adams of Blk W/Bear collaborated with Mark Beazley of Rothko on Wish For A World Without Hurt ( Trace ) . Like the Matmos album, the eight songs on Wish… are cut-and-paste recordings. The subject matter of the album addresses the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and are intended to serve in remembrance of that day. Very experimental and difficult, this funereal disc may not be the most accessible piece of music that you have heard, but it is hard not to have some sort of response to this music.
Sounds From The Bedroom ( Spitshine ) by $3 Puta is the sound of electroclash clashing with itselfbeat-box rhythms, synthesized melodies and buzzing guitar. In songs such as 'WEHO,' 'Dyke Magnet,' 'Yoda,' and 'Punk Rock For Fashion Fag,' Raquel Contreras and Rodolfo Garcia share their concerns with images, identity and socialization in the LGBT community with a hint of humor and more than a touch of truth. They also raise the issues of being in the queer performance world on songs such as 'Fan Or Friend,' 'Hard Hat,' as well as far more personal experiences on 'Gender Bender' and 'The Rape Song.'
Like $3 Puta, The Art Ghetto is a queer male/female duo. Slumming ( Trocar ) features the punk-disco ravings of Thor and Rain on a variety of subjects including substance abuse ( 'Alcohol,' 'Camp Easter Seals,' 'Hello Nicotine' ) , music ( 'Punk Rock' ) , fame ( the title track ) , sex ( 'Used,' 'Pop Rock 69' ) and social commentary ( 'Protest Song,' 'Why' ) .
Speaking of accessibility, Preacher Gone To Texas, an Iowa-based hardcore 'scremo' band has the potential to reach both straight and gay fans of this polyp producing style of emo rock with their album Choice Vs. Chance ( Sinister Label ) . Musically, Preacher Gone To Texas ought to appeal to fans of Thursday and The Blood Brothers, among others. Add to that the bonus of a couple of openly gay band members, including totally cute guitar player Matt Moody, and everyone will be happy. A reprieve arrives in the piano-only closing track 'One Scream: Motive For Movement,' and although I don't have a mothering bone in my body, all I want to do is offer vocalist Matt Johnson a thermos full of hot tea with lemon and honey.
A queer punk revival is in full effect with new releases by Super 8 Cum Shot ( Super 8 Cum Shot, Volume II ) and Pansy Division ( Total Entertainment ) . Burn Your Rainbow ( Spitshine ) by Skinjobs also deserves a place at the table. From songs about non-conformity ( the title track ) , queer love ( 'Peep Show Love,' 'Might As Well Be You' ) , queer recruitment ( 'Recruiting,' which ends with the declaration 'We're queer and we're recruitingnow!' ) , how queer history and rock and roll are on the same plateau ( 'Hands In The Air' ) , Skinjobs get their point across, loud and clear. Five of the hidden tracks are spoken-word bonuses and the fifth is a song about 'the lesbians of the Skinjobs.' These genuine punks put hetero poseurs such as Good Charlotte, Sum 41, Simple Plan and Something Corporate to shame. In fact, I strongly recommend that the members of the above-mentioned bands check out Skinjobs ( and Super 8 Cum Shot and Pansy Division, as well ) to find out precisely what is lacking in their own songs.
On a much mellower note, Remember Who I Am ( Clever Shark ) is the memorable debut disc by queer trio Girlyman. Imagine a bent Nickel Creek and you have only scratched the surface of Girlyman's lush three-part harmonies and modern bluegrass/folk sound. A truly cooperative effort, all three members of Girlyman ( Nate Borofsky, Tammy Greenstein and Doris Muramatsu ) contribute to the songwriting process and they alternate taking the lead vocals on the tunes. Standouts include 'Say Goodbye,' 'Fall Stories,' 'Even If,' 'Postcards From Mexico,' 'Amaze Me,' and a praiseworthy cover of 'My Sweet Lord.'
'Romanticore' band Bedroom Walls boasts a couple of queer members ( vocalist, lead guitarist and songwriter Adam Goldman identifies as bi and drummer Vanessa Kaufman is an out lesbian ) , which might explain the luxuriant and languid sensibility of the music on its debut disc I Saw You Coming Back To Me ( Giant Pets ) . Precious post-rock tunes that sparkle like sugar crystals, these songs need to be breathed in as much as listened to. With lyrics at a minimum, the experience of songs such as 'Do The Buildings and Cops Make You Smile?,' 'The Dog's Life,' 'More 'Real Cats',' 'There's Nothing To See In The Morning Light,' 'Landlord! Watch!
Coffin! Angel!' and 'Making Atoms Jump Like Trick Dogs,' is both ethereal and atmospheric.
A great poet once said 'make it new,' and that appears to be the challenge before lesbian singer/songwriters. With so many women who came before them and so many more trying to do the same thing, making it new may be easier said than done. On her fifth album Birthmark ( Egasage ) , Aerin Tedesco does her part by ornamenting her folk-pop songs with an electric guitar here ( 'Downside Up' ) and a cello there ( 'Fuel' ) and even a didgeridoo ( 'London' ) . 'Crush' is spiced up by some Cajun percussion and the banjo on 'Cowboy' give it, well, it's pluck.
Queer biracial singer/songwriter Pamela Means sounds like what I imagine Rachael Sage would sound like if she stepped out from behind her electric piano and picked up a guitar on her fourth album Single Bullet Theory ( Wirl ) . Cocked and loaded, Means fires off what is easily one of the best musical summations of the current political situation on the song 'O.D.' ( which stands for 'oleaginous diplomacy: government initiatives made on behalf of oil companies' ) . She also addresses racial and queer issues on 'Two Halves,' 'Augusta,' and 'The Devil's Henchmen,' with equal directness.
The anti-folk songs on Andrea Bunch's distinguished debut album Numinous find a common place for acoustic instrumentation and clear and powerful vocals to be enhanced by unusual samples and synthesizer sounds. 'Earthworms' for instance, features a machine-like grinding under the surface. A babbling brook and bird calls interwoven with synthetic crunches and a beautiful piano gives 'Colorloc' its unique hue. A debate about art and insecurity introduces the bittersweet 'Sugar.' Electronic beats and flutters give 'Species' its life-force and 'Coil' winds itself around a more traditional folk sound. 'Deosil' uses vocal samples to conjure a Middle Eastern feel, while the piano and vocal 'Cottonwood' shows Bunch in another light.
Paving the way for Girlyman, Pamela Means, Andrea Bunch, and just about every other queer singer/songwriter from the last 30 years is Janis Ian. Working Without A Net ( Rude Girl/Oh Boy ) is a double-disc live set which features songs from Ian's 35-years-plus career. From 'Society's Child' to 'Days Like These' and 'Boots Like Emmy Lou's,' the recordings ( from various venues and a multitude of countries ) span the years 1990 to 2003, and offer an impressive, if incomplete, overview of Ian's work. Some of Ian's best-known tunes, including 'At Seventeen,' 'Jesse' ( a hit for Roberta Flack ) , and 'Fly Too High' ( co-written by Giorgio Moroder! ) , are also present. A new studio disc by Ian is forthcoming in early 2004, and I am looking forward to seeing how she follows up her excellent 2000 studio album God & The FBI.
In 1988, years before Melissa Etheridge came out publicly ( and years before Janis Ian did the same ) , there was something about her debut disc that caught the attention of many lesbians and gay men. Maybe it was the album cover photo, with Etheridge in a black leather jacket with wrist adornments. It could have been her modified dyke spike. The answer probably lies within the album, which has just been reissued in an expanded double-disc deluxe edition on Island Records. Disc one features the original album, which includes songs that would go on to be staples in the Etheridge songbook, such as 'Similar Features,' 'Chrome Plated Heart,' 'Like The Way I Do,' and 'Bring Me Some Water.' The second disc features the 10 songs from the album recorded live at the Roxy in West Hollywood Oct. 11, 1988, and five of those songs recorded during in a solo acoustic performance.
In looking over the other CDs reviewed in this column, I noticed that there is a dearth of gay male singer/songwriters. The One You Choose ( www.stevenfranz.com ) by folk/country/pop artist Steven Franz is one CD that rectifies that situation. Franz doesn't shy away from gay subject matter on 'Seven Years,' a reflective song about coming out, about having 'no regrets, no missed opportunities.' The same is true on 'The Man I've Come To Be,' which is a musical exploration of moving from being a gay teenager to a gay man; 'Done With You,' a song about Franz's first male lover; and the personal coming out anthem of 'Double My Wardrobe.' Franz also exhibits excellent taste in music as he credits Beth Nielsen Chapman as the inspiration for 'Out Into The Distance.'
Calico ( MP3. com ) by queer Chicago-based performer Scott Montgomery, includes songs from his deservedly acclaimed Elaine Place and Roscoe album, such as 'A Spank of Happy,' 'Drama Lives in Lincoln Park,' and 'blo.' It also features new songs including the well-timed 'Baghdaddy,' 'Cali' ( about a Calico cat, who 'doesn't break the skin when she chews,' and her owner ) , the funky folk of 'Better Days,' and the crazy rhythms of 'Scooty Boo.'
A queer music column would be incomplete without a few CDs by dance artists. Kevin Aviance follows up his 1999 Box Of Chocolates full-length album with Entity ( Emerge ) . Aviance gets dipped, flipped and licked on 'Give It Up,' co-written by gay DJ, songwriter and record producer Tony Moran, in which he compares himself to both a drug that will make you go crazy and to cotton candy. His smash hit dance single 'Alive,' also a Moran co-composition, features his trademark stuttered vocals and it certainly deserved its lively reception and is featured here in two versions, one being a more than 10-minute extended remix. 'Power,' co-written by Aviance, is a hand- and roof-raising number. 'Freak It ( Live Out Loud ) ,' is Aviance's most retro recording, reminiscent of the '80s sound of The Gap Band, and is a standout track. Aviance asks the musical question, 'Are you having fun yet?' and then seeks out the answer on the dizzying 'Twirl.' Perhaps most surprising is the queer blues of 'Seattle,' which illuminates yet another side of the multi-faceted artist.
Houston Bernard manages to be more graphic than the aforementioned Kevin Aviance ( and that's no easy feat ) on his electroclash EP I Love Houston ( houstonbernard @yahoo.com ) . Beginning with the 'I've never been on a horse before' confession of 'Ride It Cowboy,' which asks the musical question, 'Do you really want the dick?' and follows it up with very explicit directions. Rocking a little harder on the new wave edge, 'Str8 Acting' begins with street cruising and features the chorus 'I'm a straight-acting, huge-dicked faggot/I'll f*ck you in the mouth.' Openly bisexual, Bernard turns his attention to the opposite sex on the tracks 'U Smell So Nice' and 'Oh Boy Relax.'
According to glbtq.com, the 'encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture,' for most of Leonard Bernstein's life, 'the specter of the closet lurked threateningly behind' Bernstein's 'glamorous and often brash public image.' Although Bernstein married and had three children, he did have homosexual liaisons and following his wife's death in 1978, he 'became increasingly open about his own gayness.' Bernstein, who died in 1990 at the age of 72, was one of the most acclaimed composers and conductors of the 20th century in the realms of classical, theatrical and popular music. Two thoughtfully assembled triple-disc anthologies recognize and illustrate Bernstein's significant contributions. A Total Embrace: The Composer ( Sony Classical/Legacy ) focuses on Bernstein's substantial composition work including concert works such as Mass and Chichester Psalms to name just two. Theater works such as On The Town, Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story comprise a majority of the second and third discs. A Total Embrace: The Conductor ( Sony Classical/ Legacy ) consists of Bernstein's work with the New York Philharmonic, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and others.
In addition to making music, many queer artists also have a gift for making us laugh. Margaret Cho is one such artist. Her 2003 live show Revolution ( Nettwerk America ) has been captured for posterity on CD. Thought provoking and laugh producing, Revolution, like much of Cho's remarkable stand-up comedy, is political and personal, passionate and powerful. One minute you are near tears from laughing so hard about her losing control of her bowels while sitting in traffic and the next you are near tears because she has touched you, as she did me in the piece about being the parent of a gay child.