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Queer group therapy

by Gregg Shapiro

Queer group therapy

It's interesting that Boy George and Culture Club would call their new studio album, their first such release in almost 20 years, "Life" (BMG), as that's the one thing it could use more of. For a group that was so groundbreaking in its early 1980s heyday, Culture Club sounds surprisingly out of touch. You have to wonder what it is they've been listening to all these years. At a time when electronic dance music is having a strong resurgence, "Life" would have benefited from some of the house music energy that Boy George incorporated in his 1991 "Martyr Mantras" album. Instead we get some recycled takes on the band's longtime flirtation with reggae on "Let Somebody Love You" and "What Does Sorry Mean?" The dated "Bad Blood" (not a cover of the Neil Sedaka/Elton John duet) and "Human Zoo" sound like late-80s leftovers. But it's not a total loss. The brassy, sassy, soulful "Resting Bitch Face" deserves to be a hit. "Different Man" is the closest thing to a dance number, and it has a powerful if repetitive message. "Oil & Water" is a moving ballad about difference.

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers is the latest musical incarnation of Against Me! frontperson and trans icon Laura Jane Grace. The biggest challenge for Grace since the release of Against Me!'s 2014 masterpiece "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" is creating something as good or better. "Bought to Rot" (Bloodshot) definitely has moments of divine inspiration. The divorce song "I Hate Chicago" is as humorous as it is serious. "The Airplane Song," which may qualify as Grace's poppiest and most accessible number, is irresistible. The cowpunk of "Apocalypse Now (& Later)" and "The Apology Song" are a nice fit for an album on a legendary alt-country record label, and "The Friendship Song" is sincere without being cloying.

One of the things that Laura Jane Grace understands about rock bombast is that variety breaks up the monotony. That's something Honolulu-based Kings of Spade, led by out, mohawked frontwoman KC, will have to learn. Some of the songs on Kings of Spade's new self-titled album (on Soundly), which owes a massive debt to Southern blues rock, tend to blur in the bluster. Queer anthem "Strange Bird" (about rocking to the beat of your own drum) is worth checking out, but you might find it sonically indistinguishable from "Way She Goes," "San Antone" and "This Child." The rap-metal (remember that?) of "Bottoms Up" changes things up a bit, but Kings of Spade would profit from playing some of the other cards in its deck.

Addie Sartino, the queer frontwoman of young Kansas City-based band The Greeting Committee, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Laura Jane and KC on the debut disc "This Is It" (Harvest). No howling, no screaming, just pleasing singing. That's one of The Greeting Committee's trademarks. Whether Sartino's singing about when she was "just a kid" and wondering whether this is all there is on "Is This It?" or settling down after spinning out on "Pull It Together," The Greeting Committee sounds older and wiser than you might think. The band's wonderful use of piano and horns gives them a sophisticated sheen. When the band rocks out, as on "Flint," it's a welcome distraction. Make a point of saying hello to The Greeting Committee.

Named for their "aged arch top guitars," Roscoe & Etta is a duo featuring out singer-songwriter Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze. Sharp is comfortable sharing the spotlight (she recorded an album with Art Garfunkel and Buddy Mondlock), so it's not surprising to hear she has teamed with another singer-songwriter to form a duo. The outstanding eponymous 11-song Roscoe & Etta debut album (Crooked Crown Records) showcases both artists' songwriting and performance chops, with "Broken Headlights," "Chocolate Sauce" and "Somebody" among the highlights.

Bay Area duo Book of J (Jewlia Eisenberg of Charming Hostess and Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery) combines their talents on their self-titled debut (3rd Generation Records). The baker's dozen "bible-haunted," queerly political tunes that cross-breed Americana with Jewish folk music might make some listeners proclaim, "Funny, you don't look blues-ish!" If you have daring taste in music, Book of J might be your cup of kasha varnishkes.

For a different kind of group effort, check out "Everybody's Talking About Jamie: Original West End Cast Recording" (Broadway). Dan Gillespie Sells, the gay frontman of the band The Feeling, wrote the music for the musical. The book and lyrics are by Tom MacRae. It's based on the BBC documentary "Jamie: Drag Queen at 16," and stars John MacRea as the titular character Jamie New. The songs on the cast recording alternate between contemporary musical theater fare ("Over the Top") and dance-oriented numbers ("Work of Art").

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