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It's been said before, but it bears repeating. LGBTQ musicians are making some of the most captivating and inspiring music out there. Since the beginning of 2018, new releases by queer artists such as Jim Andralis, Lucy Dacus, H.C. McEntire and Sarah Shook rank among the best to be heard.
Beginning with the release of her eponymous 2005 debut recording, Brandi Carlile has consistently delivered outstanding albums, including "The Story" and "Bear Creek," that have earned her a devoted following. With a goosebump-raising vocal range and the ability to write songs with immense emotional impact, Carlile doesn't disappoint with her latest disc, "By the Way, I Forgive You" (Low Country Sound/Elektra). From the personal lesbian mom tune "The Mother" to the queer empowerment anthem "The Joke," Carlile has created her most far-reaching set of songs. The country-tinged "Every Time I Hear That Song," the stomp of "Hold Out Your Hand," the heartbreaking political statement of "Fulton County Jane Doe," the addiction story-song "Sugartooth," the back-to-back forgiveness theme of "Most of All" and "Harder To Forgive" and the breathtaking album closer "Party of One" all contribute in making this Carlile's best album to date.
Ezra Furman describes his brilliant and unforgettable new album "Transangelic Exodus" (Bella Union) as "not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir, a personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga." Regardless of how you feel about that description, you would be remiss if you didn't give the disc a spin. A dizzying and exhilarating experience, "Transangelic Exodus" will leave you reeling in the best possible way. Opener "Suck the Blood from My Wound" morphs from pure pop exuberance to static rage in under five minutes. "Driving Down to L.A." sounds like a lost experimental Rufus Wainwright number, and if "No Place" doesn't make your heart race you should check your pulse. "The Great Unknown" (with what we can only hope is a sampled scream) has anthem written all over it, and "Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" is remarkable. "Love You So Bad" and the delirious "I Lost My Innocence" are retro pop filtered through 21st-century speakers.
Talent show competitor Calum Scott's exquisite reimagining of Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" as a ballad hinted at his great taste in music. That song, as well as a reading of Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet," can both be found of Scott's full-length debut album "Only Human" (Capitol). The guy can sing! But so can Sam Smith, and therein lies the problem. We already have one Smith, do we need another? The original songs, co-written by Scott and a team of collaborators, tend to be indistinguishable. There are a few exceptions, including the Leona Lewis duet "You Are the Reason" and the rhythmic "Give Me Something." Worst of all is "Stop Me (Only Human)," featuring a lazy borrow from the Human League song "Human."
An interesting musical experiment if ever there was one, "World Beyond" (Mute) by Erasure is a "classical reworking" of the 10 tracks from the duo's 2017 "World Be Gone" disc in a chamber music setting backed by Echo Collective. Given the subject matter, the current chaotic political mood, songs "Be Careful What You Wish For!" "Oh What a World," "World Be Gone," and "Lousy Sum of Nothing" benefit from these new renditions. "Still It's Not Over," Erasure's queerest and most overtly political statement, is sure to have the greatest impact on LGBTQ listeners.
Gay musical theater composer Stephen Flaherty, along with his longtime collaborator Lynn Ahrens, has created an impressive string of Broadway hits, including "Ragtime," "My Favorite Year," "Seussical" and "Anastasia." One of Flaherty and Ahrens' earliest shows, "Once On This Island," is in the midst of a Broadway revival. The cast features queer actor Alex Newell as Asaka, Mother of the Earth, on "Once On This Island: New Broadway Cast Recording" (Broadway Records).