By Gregg Shapiro
On her ironically-titled second album Third (Omnivore), trans singer/songwriter Cait Brennan had her work cut out for her in equaling her well-received 2016 debut Debutante. From all indications, she succeeded. Endorsed by Laura Jane Grace, and rocking with a versatility that would make Hedwig envious, Brennan has found her lucky number with Third. Just in terms of sheer variety – the raw rocker “Stack Overflow”, the retro-pop of “He Knows Too Much”, the dramatic “At the End of the World” and Goodbye Missamerica” (sic), the Bowie-esque glam on “A Hard Man to Love” and “Benedict Cumberbatch”, and the rock and roll heaven anthem “The Angels Lie” -- Third time’s the charm.
Queer female folk singers such as Sera Cahoone are nothing new. However, what Cahoone does with the genre on From Where I Stand (Lady Muleskinner) deserves attention. Beginning with the stunning opener “Always Turn Around” and continuing through the touching “Better Woman”, the seductive Americana of “Up To Me”, the gentle swing of “Time To Give”, Cahoone’s way with a love song is admirable. “Ladybug”, which addresses queer domestic violence, makes the personal universal. Cahoone is backed by a band of top-notch musicians, including Dave Depper of Death Cab for Cutie.
While it’s not uncommon to hear strong traces of country in the folk music of lesbian musicians such as Diana Jones or the aforementioned Sera Cahoone, it’s been less so when it comes to gay male artists. So, here’s a trend I bet you didn’t see coming! Sam Gleaves, an openly gay folk singer from Appalachia, and Tyler Hughes, a gay man who “grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” The self-titled album by Sam Gleaves & Tyler Hughes (Community Music) is steeped in the tradition of duet singing, a reflection of the pair’s Southwest Virginia roots. Particularly noteworthy is Hughes’ “When We Love”, a song (and potential anthem) that brings traditional music firmly into the 21st century. The same can be said for the cover of Ola Belle Reed’s “Tear Down The Fences”.
Jared Tyler exemplifies the way that contemporary country music continues to return to its rawest roots on his third album Dirt On Your Hands (jaredtyler.com). Bookending the disc are “Death Of Me” and “Love Of You”, two songs Tyler wrote for his life partner Jacob. Other outstanding originals include “Norway”, “Heart Wide Open” and the bouncy “Lucky I Am”. Tyler is also a capable interpreter of other people’s songs such as Malcolm Holcombe’s “The Door” and Dixie Mitchell’s “Waltzing Around With My Shadow”.
On a one-woman mission to disprove the myth of the humorless lesbian, Scout Durwood succeeds with ease on Take One Thing Off (Blue Elan). As she explains in the informative intro, the disc is a combination of a live stand-up comedy set and songs recorded in a studio. The stand-up material includes lesbian sex tapes, hate crimes, alcoholism, football players, being hit on by straight guys, strip clubs, and anxiety. She also coins one of the funniest lines of the year - “the men in LA look so much like the lesbians in New York.” Durwood’s musical moments are alternately humorous (“The Wedding Song”, “Go Go”, the title cut) and serious (“Fallin’ In Love”, “Here We Go” and a cover of “My Funny Valentine”).
On The Neon Jungle (Rock Ridge Music), gay modern soul singer/songwriter JC Brooks shed more than the name of his previous band, The Uptown Sound. Returning with only one original member (Kevin Marks) and four new faces, Brooks steps to the fore, striving for a sound that incorporates his original retro sound (“Jungle”, “Drive”, “Edge of Night”, “Heartbeat” ) with a fresh approach (“Stumble In the Dark”, “Watch Me” and “Get Gone”).
An LGBT music column wouldn’t be complete without a dance music artist. That’s where James Raftery fits in with his new album Everything (Serious Janitor Music). After recording under the Rat Wakes Red moniker for 15 years, Raftery moves in a distinctly synth-pop direction. “Frame”, “Sun Roof”, “Mirroring” and the title cut are all meant for serious dancing. Raftery is also comfortable slowing down the beats on “Seed”, “The Goal” and “Hidden Mind”.