** JC Chasez at House Of Blues, (312) 923-2000, on May 7
** Ron Sexsmith at Schuba's, (773) 525-2508, on May 17
Straight men have long held a fascination for some gay men (and vice versa). There are those gay men who want to emulate straight men, while there are others who just want to seduce them. Whatever the case may be, plenty of gay men also have an ear for the music created by straight men.
He may sing about getting in with the women who dance with other women in 'Some Girls (Dance With Women),' but JC Chasez (of N*Sync) must know that there are probably men who wouldn't mind getting in with him. On his solo debut, the aptly titled Schizophrenic (Jive), Chasez embodies the vocal styles of several steamy and soulful vocalists, in lieu of giving the listener a clue into his own personality. He does a decent Enrique Iglesias on the aforementioned 'Some Girls,' and then creates a Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson hybrid on 'She Got Me.' '100 Ways' sounds like Prince at his most purple and 'Build My World' most closely resembles Chasez's N*Sync style. However, on songs such as 'Shake It' (one of the few songs on the disc for which Chasez didn't get co-writing credit) and the electroclash-like 'All Day Long I Dream About Sex' Chasez manages to diverge from the formula.
Sneering, cigarette smoking, bar-brawling bad boys have long had an appeal for some gay men. Ryan Adams embodies that image, and never more so than on his also aptly named album Rock N Roll (Lost Highway), on which the insurgent country superstar attempts to recapture some of his edgy rock credibility. The first three tracks, 'This Is It,' 'Shallow' (with backing vocals by Melissa Auf Der Mar), and '1974,' succeed in making Adams's point. But, like rocker Paul Westerberg, Adams also has no qualms about showing his softer side in the midst of the rubble, which you can hear on 'Wish You Were Here,' while 'Do Miss America' reminded me of The Replacements. Adams recalls early U2 on 'So Alive,' and is joined by Parker Posey (on backing vocals) on 'Note To Self: Don't Die.' Of course, the ironically titled track 'Rock N Roll' is a stripped-down piano and vocal tune, showing that Adams still has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. Also see: Kid Rock (Atlantic), which opens with 'Rock 'n' Roll Pain Train' and includes the Kid's cover of Bad Company's 'Feel Like Makin' Love.' And consider The Wolf (Island) by feral one-man arena-rocker Andrew W.K.
I regret that it took me as long as it did to finally get to the spectacular 1972 (Rykodisc) by Josh Rouse, but now that I have, I am on a mission to spread the word about it. 'She was feelin' 1972/groovin' to a Carole King tune/is it too late baby?/is it too late?', Rouse sings in the title tune. As someone who spent a lot of time listening to top 40 radio as a kid in the early '70s, I admire the way the way he captures the soul of the era. Rouse resurrects Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye on 'James,' and then goes on to conjure the Rolling Stones of that period on 'Slaveship.' 'Come Back (Light Therapy)' radiates Al Green and 'Sparrows Over Birmingham' suggests Paul Simon's early solo recordings. The remainder of the songs give the album a timeless quality.
Had I not experienced the endless splendor of Ron Sexsmith's 2002 masterwork Cobblestone Runway (which my topped my 'best of' list for that year), I might feel differently about his new album Retriever (Nettwerk America). As it is, it pains me to say that I am somewhat disappointed with this collection of mostly low-key compositions. It's hard to fault Sexsmith who dedicated the record 'to the memory and music of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and Elliott Smith,' who remains a stellar songwriter and performer, but there is something lacking. Still, there are enough wondrous moments to retrieve the album for me, such as 'Not About To Lose,' 'Tomorrow In Her Eyes,' 'For The Driver,' 'Wishing Wells,' 'Happiness' and 'How On Earth.' As important follow-up discs go, John Mayer's Heavier Things (Aware/Columbia) actually improves on his name-establishing second album Room For Squares. Check it out, you won't regret it.
Where Shall You Take Me? (Secretly Canadian) by neo-folkie Damien Jurado has earned comparisons to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. Heck, the album even has a song on it called 'Omaha.' In fact, when you hear Jurado sing 'this country will know us by name,' on the aforementioned song, it has an ominous ring to it. Jurado puts his stamp on the Americana songbook via bare-bones tunes such as 'Abilene,' 'Window,' 'I Can't Get Over You,' and 'Matinee,' as well as the electrified 'Texas To Ohio.'
Joe Henry (brother-in-law of Madonna, and co-writer of her hit song 'Don't Tell Me') colors his dark, contemporary, smoky cabaret numbers with jazz-tinged brass on Tiny Voices (Anti-). With the aid of Don Byron and Ron Miles, Henry's intimate songs radiate like a shuttered room touched by sunlight.
Steve Winwood is old enough to be the father of some of the above-mentioned men, but he holds his own on his latest album About Time (Wincraft/Sci Fidelity). Beginning with the luminous 'Different Light,' and continuing through his impressive cover of the 1972 (a theme emerges) Timmy Thomas hit 'Why Can't We Live Together,' the Latin-flavored 'Domingo Morning,' and the uplifting 'Walking On,' this disc indicates that it's about time for a Steve Winwood revival.
Other notable recent releases by hetero male musicians include Shine (Anti-) by Daniel Lanois, What's In The Bag? (Razor & Tie) by Marshall Crenshaw, Fear Yourself (Gammon) by Daniel Johnston, Ways & Means (Spin Art/Cooking Vinyl) by Paul Kelly, and enthusiastic Southern singer/ songwriter Michael Tolcher's I Am (Octone).