Goodbye, yellow brick road

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Wednesday February 21, 2018
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Last month Elton John announced that he would be retiring from touring. His three-year farewell concert tour is sure to be one of the biggest events in pop-music history. The release of the double-disc hits compilation Diamonds (Rocket-Island-UMe) preceded the announcement by a couple of months. At 34 tracks, Diamonds does a good job of representing the first 10 years of Elton's career on the first disc. But things go awry on the second disc, since this represents a much longer period, 1980 to the present day, a time when the hits were somewhat less plentiful. Because it covers more than 36 years, during which he released more than 15 studio albums, as well as movie soundtracks and cast recordings, there are obvious exclusions. Nevertheless, as updated collections go, Diamonds sparkles.

Arriving six years after his debut EP, Jason Gould's first full-length album Dangerous Man (Qwest) is a safe but solid disc. Gould, the gay son of Barbra Streisand and Elliott Gould, holds his own throughout, performing originals and cover tunes. A couple of the songs from the EP, "Morning Prayer" and "This Masquerade," have made their way onto the full-length. His covers of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "For All We Know" and "The Way You Look Tonight" are all pleasing to the ear. "The Stranger," co-written with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, responsible for some of Streisand's biggest hits, could be the sole nod to Gould's mother. Also notable are collaborations with lesbian songwriter Marsha Malamet, including "One Day" and "All's Forgiven."

Let's face it, Sam Smith is the gay male Adele. His new album The Thrill of It All (Capitol) only seals the deal. It's an unavoidable comparison when Smith opens the disc with the heart-tugging ballad "Too Good at Goodbyes." The gospel-style choir is also a nice touch. The biggest difference between the new disc and Smith's award-winning debut In the Lonely Hour is the way that ballads dominate. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as "Say It First," "Him" and the religious experience of "Pray" (cue gospel choir) demonstrate that Smith knows his strengths.

Gay singer-songwriter Jim Andralis released his solo debut in 2016. Lucky for us, we didn't have to wait long for the follow-up. Available on CD and gorgeous pink vinyl, Shut Up Shut Up ( exceeds expectations. With stunning girl-group harmonies provided by The Syntonics (Julie Delano, Leslie Graves, Susan Hwang and Jessie Kilguss), Andralis has a way of saying in song the things many of us think: "My Therapist Says," "Don't Blame New York," "I'm a Monster," and the server anthem "Cover My Section."

Gay, Austin-based singer-songwriter Patrick Boothe returns with You Have To Believe We Are Tragic ( The title may sound like a parody of the Olivia Newton-John song "Magic," but the material is serious. Boothe wanted the album "to reflect what it may be like for one to fall in love while working through depression and anxiety." This comes across on the songs "Untouchable," "Living Man" and "Do Better."

Musical genres you might not think of as being welcoming to out gay men, say country, metal or jazz, have begun to change. Even the blues, perhaps the last vestige of the straight male musician, has an openly gay artist in its ranks with harmonica player Jason Ricci. Over the course of 11 songs clocking in at 77 minutes, Approved by Snakes (Eller Soul) by confirms that Ricci & The Bad Kind are a blues force to be reckoned with.

Dance music has long been the province of gay men, as both performers and fans. On Celebrate (Burning Tyger), Win Marcinak blends covers (Three Dog Night's "Celebrate," Sylvester's "Mighty Real," Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" and Aretha's "Rock Steady") with originals. Ulla Hedwig, one of Bette Midler's original Harlettes, sings along on "We Are What We Are."

Finally, musical theater continues to play an important role in the lives of gay men. Three recent cast recordings feature significant contributions from gays. The late Howard Ashman was not only behind the Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors, but he also helped to revive Disney's animated musical with blockbusters The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. The first collaboration by Ashman and Alan Menken, Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Ghostlight), has finally made its way to CD on the premiere cast recording featuring James Earl Jones. Partners Dan Martin and Michael Biello collaborated with Jennifer Robbins on Marry Harry: Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (, about the intersection of love and food. Zombie Bathhouse features a book by Brian Kirst and music and lyrics by Scott Free. Free's fans may recognize some of the music from his own solo albums.