Queer sisterhood is powerful

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Wednesday March 28, 2018
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Queer sisterhood is powerful

Co-produced by Allison Zatarain and legendary songwriter-producer Richard Gottehrer, the 10-song vinyl LP Instant Love Volume 1 (Instant Records) is intended to celebrate "the power of love between women, mothers, sisters, friends and lovers." It's a reimagining of classic love songs by musical acts Billy Joel ("She's Got a Way" sung by Lolo Zouai), The Beach Boys ("Don't Worry Baby" done by Rachel Fannan) and The Kinks ("You Really Got Me" covered by Cavale). Highlights include Erika Spring of Au Revoir Simone performing "Colours" by Donovan, Holly Miranda's reading of Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man," Irma Thomas' rendition of "Crazy Love" by Van Morrison, Nicole Atkins singing "Amy" by Ryan Adams, and jazz vocalist Karen Souza's version of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." Looking forward to Volume 2 and others to follow.

While we're on the subject of cover tunes, the always brilliant lesbian singer-songwriter and bassist extraordinaire Meshell Ndegeocello, who paid tribute to Nina Simone on 2012's Pour Une Ame Souveraine and has been including covers on more recent albums, has just put out the cleverly titled Ventriloquism (All Points/Believe). Ndegeocello reimagines 11 songs, originally released between 1982-94, in her own distinctive style, and the results are breathtaking. Some renditions stick closer to the originals than others, as in the case of Ndegeocello's readings of Prince's "Sometimes It Snows in April" (from 1986), Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam feat. Full Force's "I Wonder If I Take You Home" and Al B. Sure's "Nite and Day" (both from 1988), yet manage to maintain her distinctive style. Some of the most exciting moments occur on deconstructed versions of George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" (1982), Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity" (1990), Sade's "Smooth Operator" (1984), Janet Jackson's "Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)" and "Force MD's "Tender Love." Brava, diva!

Is it too early in the year to begin assembling a "best of" list? If not, the Ndegeocello disc certainly qualifies. As does the devastating Rifles & Rosary Beads (In the Black/Thirty Tigers) by lesbian singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier. It's a product of Gauthier's association with Darden Smith's nonprofit organization SongwritingWith:Soldiers, in which soldiers are teamed up with professional songwriters. For Gauthier's album, she collaborated with male and female soldiers for most of the tracks. Two of the songs, including the devastating "The War After the War," were written by military wives whose soldier husbands returned from the battlefield wounded. Gauthier, who is a sort of queer Lucinda Williams, has a history of bringing listeners to tears (check out 2010's The Foundling), but Rifles & Rosary Beads takes that ability to a whole new level.

Certain to earn queer musician Joan As Police Woman (aka Joan Wasser) a larger devoted following, her smoky and soulful new album Damned Devotion (PIAS) is the latest from an artist who follows her own path. Arresting numbers "Steed (for Jean Genet)," "Tell Me," "Wandering Bell," "Silly Me" and "I Don't Mind" don't sound like anyone else. Joan As Police Woman makes delicious music, and she doesn't need to flash her badge to do it.

No one could ever accuse Swedish pop goddess Tove Lo of slacking off. Two years may have passed between 2014's Queen of the Clouds and 2016's Lady Wood, but 2017's Blue Lips (Lady Wood Phase II) arrived a year later, continuing the frank bisexuality of its predecessor. How frank? Just listen to "shivering gold" and "bitches" as a couple of examples.

Featuring lesbian bass player Laura Lee, the trio Khruangbin touches down with its second album Con Todo el Mundo (Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories). A mostly instrumental affair, it could be the soundtrack to a night of passionate lovemaking, a hipster loft party or a dinner with old friends. Can't you just picture your friends dancing in their brightly colored stocking feet to "Maria También," "Evan Finds the Third Room" or "Como Me Quieres?"

It might seem hard to believe, but Atlanta-based lesbian singer-songwriter Michelle Malone has been putting out albums for 30 years. Her latest, Slings & Arrows (SBS Records), finds her getting political on "Love Yourself" and "Just Getting Started." It's nice that Malone's still able to surprise us as she does with her cover of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," a duet with Shawn ("Lullaby") Mullins.

On SweetSexySavage (Atlantic), the debut disc by queer R&B artist Kehlani, listeners go on a grand tour of styles of contemporary black music, including hip-hop-influenced modern soul. It's a strong and memorable first album, the best of which can be found on the songs "Hold Me by the Heart," "Get Like" and "Too Much."

The song "Shameful Feeling," described as being about "the journey of coming out of hiding, rising above painful adolescent memories, and learning to shut out fears and self-doubt" within a "queer context," is a powerful track near the center of the six-song EP Garage Sale (carryillinoisband.com) by Carry Illinois, led by lesbian singer-songwriter Lizzy Lehman. "Goodnight," the album's heart-tugging closing track, deals with the suicide of original band member John Winsor, and is a stunning tribute.