Listening to lesbians
by Gregg Shapiro
As far as I'm concerned, Sandra Bernhard is a goddess. She's an out comic genius. Ahead of her time, Bernhard dared to go where few before her went, via riveting and hilarious monologues. In her own way, she helped pave the road for Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin. She's a quirky and intelligent actress. She's an outspoken LGBT rights activist, and we are fortunate to have her as a member of our community. Over the years, Bernhard has regularly included music in her stage shows and on her CDs. On Whatever It Takes (Mi5), Bernhard broadens her musical horizons to encompass a sort of world music sound, with mixed results. She begins with "All Around," joined by Chrissie Hynde and Jean Paul Samputu, and continues with the island rhythm of the title tune. "Don't Cry in Bed" goes the sample-beat-loop route, followed by the sitar-driven "A New World." "We're On Our Way" rocks its way through the Middle East, and "Can You See" sounds as though Bernhard stopped in at a rave in Tel Aviv while she was in the neighborhood. "The Sun Comes Out" revisits Paul Simon's Graceland territory.
Humor plays a significant role in the songs on the eponymous disc (House of Twang) by Ménage a Twang, featuring out band member Emily Moore. Of course, the laughs come with a healthy helping of truth in observations in songs about dating advice ("Listen Sister, Don't Date a Hipster"), dating ("The Key to Your Apartment" and "One Night Stand"), creative slacker partners ("I'll Only Support Your Art for So Long") and NY life ("Let's Share a Studio and Temp," "Weekend Service Changes"). Moore's "Secret Conservative Side," about attending the hetero wedding of a former lesbian pal, is particularly pointed and will hit home for many listeners. A cover of Destiny's Child's "Survivor" is also good for a serious laugh.
On her new album Hello, Stranger (Compass), Catie Curtis turns up the twang on five of her own previously recorded numbers, as well a half-a-dozen cover tunes. Curtis compositions "100 Miles," "Dad's Yard" and "Saint Lucy" are given a fresh coat of country paint with instrumentation that includes banjos, fiddle, mandolin, resophonic guitar and an acoustic bass. As the covers go, the duet with fellow out singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier on the title tune is simply priceless. Curtis renews the emotional impact of Richard Thompson's "Walking on a Wire" and, as a parent, she finds the joy in "Be Sixteen with Me."
During the summer of 2009, when Logo's Click List was dominated by gay male artists, the video for young lesbian singer/songwriter Mal Blum's "Ode to Kulele" held its own against the competition. The song, from Blum's second album Goodnight Sugarpop (malblum.com), is reason enough to buy the disc. But if you need other reasons, they are "Cut It Off," "Hypocrite" and "Waiting in Line."
Blues belter and cancer survivor Candye Kane is back in good voice and good health on Superhero (Delta Groove Music). Kane dips her brush in a variety of blues hues on originals ranging from down and dirty ("I Put a Hex on You") to dramatic ("Don't Cry for Me, New Jersey"), from celebratory ("You Can't Stop Me from Loving You") to swinging ("I Like em Stacked like That").
Whether solo or with her band lOne gOat, it's been Sean Wiggins' powerful and uncompromising vocal style that's kept people coming back for more. Wiggins can sing. Naked Thursdays (seanwiggins.com) has her singing the blues ("Georgia"), pop ("Closer to Me" and the marvelous "Must Love Dogs") and country ("Whiskey & Duct Tape").
On her live album Mostly True Stories (Permanent Records), Steph Hayes, who reminded me of Melissa Ferrick, interweaves brief stories/introductions with the dozen songs on the disc.
Sandra Bernhard appears at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko from Oct. 13-25. Catie Curtis performs at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on Oct. 29.