Q-Music: Pride inside — a queer quarantine playlist

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday June 23, 2020
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LEFT: Marty Thomas' 'Slow Dancing With a Boy'  RIGHT: Kesha's 'High Road'
LEFT: Marty Thomas' 'Slow Dancing With a Boy' RIGHT: Kesha's 'High Road'

It's been a while since a gay singer has released an album as, well, gay as Slow Dancing With a Boy (Broadway). But Marty Thomas is more than up to the task. Thomas first came to our attention at age 12 by beating Britney Spears (ha!) with a perfect score in a junior competition on Ed McMahon's Star Search in 1992.

Since that time, he established himself on Broadway, as well as on Netflix's Grace & Frankie. Slow Dancing With a Boy is Thomas' second album and it's a fantastic showcase for his interpretive skills. His renditions of Stevie Wonder's "As," Maria McKee's "Show Me Heaven," Jason Robert Brown's "Someone To Fall Back On," David Foster's "Remember Me This Way," the Madonna and Pat Benatar hits "Crazy For You" and "We Belong," respectively, as well as the Robyn/Les Miz/Eric Carmen mash-up "Dancing On My Own All By Myself," put Thomas in a league of his own.

Poor Kesha has not had it easy in recent years. The queer singer/songwriter's legal troubles with her record label have become the stuff of legend. Additionally, the seemingly endless setbacks she has suffered in her personal and professional battle against former producer Dr. Luke are enough to make anyone crack.

Regardless, Kesha continues to make music, including her new album High Road (Kemosabe/RCA). While High Road isn't as solid or ambitious as 2017's career-high Rainbow, it's still an admirable effort. The album's 15 songs have more in common with earlier Kesha albums, including "My Own Dance" (co-written by Kesha, gay singer/songwriter Justin Tranter and LGBTQ activist Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons) which features echoes of her earlier hip-pop influenced tunes.

Nevertheless, Kesha comes through on the Big Freedia collaboration "Raising Hell," "Cowboy Blues" (co-written with gay singer/songwriter Wrabel), "Resentment" (also co-written with Wrabel and featuring guest vocals by Wrabel, Brian Wilson and Sturgill Simpson), the heartbreaking "Father Daughter Dance" and "BFF" (a duet with Wrabel).

LEFT TO RIGHT: Rachael Sage's 'Character', Green Day's 'Father of All...', Shopping's 'All or Nothing'  

Like Kesha, Rachael Sage is also a survivor. But in Sage's case it was a health crisis that briefly sidelined her career. Back and better than ever, Sage delivers her new album Character (MPress). When she sings "I have been through hell and back and back again/I was lucky to come out alive" in "Bravery's On Fire," the song sizzles with emotion.

It's fitting that Sage covers Ani DiFranco's "Both Hands" because of what they have in common — being queer, being young, female singer/songwriters who started and continue to record on their own record labels. Sage's cover of Neil Young's "Ohio" is particularly poignant as 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. Sage originals including the tango of "Cave," the subtle twang of "Open The Door," the gorgeous "Atmosphere" and the experimental rock of the title track are also worth a listen.

More than 30 years into its existence, Green Day (led by queer front-man Billie Joe Armstrong) has released its most unexpected album to date with Father of All... (Reprise). From the unapologetic arena rock title-cut opener and "Take The Money and Crawl" to the retro-rock of "Fire, Ready, Aim" (complete with handclaps) and the Joan Jett sample ("Do You Wanna Touch Me") on "Oh Yeah!,"

Green Day is stretching the colors of its palette. The humorous anthem "I Was A Teenage Teenager," the sugar high of "Sugar Youth" and the unabashed '80s pop of "Graffitia" prove that the members of Green Day are aging with grace.

It's no secret that we love to dance. When we get to dance to music by a queer band, then it's all the better. When it's UK band Shopping, known for its danceable social commentary, and its new album All or Nothing (Fatcat), we get to keep our body and our brain engaged.

Think of Shopping as the love child of Gang of Four and the B-52s. Abandon all plans of sitting this one out, beginning with the title number, Shopping wants you to spend as much time on your feet and dancing as possible. That's a realistic goal as songs such as "Follow Me," "Initiative," "For Your Pleasure," "Expert Advice" and "Trust In Us" are certain to keep listeners busy.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Game Theory's 'Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript', 'Beat Poetry for Survivalists', of Montreal's 'Ur Fun'  

As gay musicians go, Michael Quercio (of The Three O'Clock notoriety) deserves to get his due. Out at a time (the early to mid-1980s) when he was definitely in the minority, Quercio was part of an L.A. music scene — the Paisley Underground — for which he is credited with coming up with the moniker.

Quercio's post-Three O'Clock work included producing and playing on albums by Game Theory. As a member of the final Game Theory line-up, Quercio can also be heard on Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript (Omnivore), a 24-track CD compilation featuring live, studio and home recordings that may give fans the sense of closure that has been lacking.

Like Quercio, Victor Krummenacher was an openly gay member of a California-based band — Camper Van Beethoven — that also experienced mainstream recognition and success. For Krummenacher's latest musical project, a supergroup collaboration with Dave Alvin, David Immergluck and Michael Jerome, Krummenacher known as The Third Mind, a psychedelic self-titled six-song EP (on Yep Roc) has come to fruition.

Combining influences ranging from jazz to roots music to blues, the songs range in length from under three minutes (the original composition "Claudia Cardinale") to more than 16 minutes (a cover of "East/West" by Paul Butterfield Blues Band). In between, there are also covers of songs by Fred Neil ("The Dolphins," featuring vocals by Jesse Sykes) and Alice Coltrane ("Journey in Satchidananda"), to name a couple.

Let's get something straight. Neither Luke Haines (of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder fame) nor Peter Buck (of R.E.M. renown) identifies as members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, Buck, a co-founding member of R.E.M. led by gay frontman Michael Stipe, was with the band from 1980 until it disbanded in 2011.

Living up to its title, with Haines performing the spoken/sung lyrics, Beat Poetry for Survivalists (Omnivore) features references to Liberace ("Last of the Legendary Bigfoot Hunters"), Johnnie Ray ("Witch Tariff"), Andy Warhol ("Andy Warhol Was Not Kind") and Maria Callas ("Apocalypse Beach"), "hairdresser of the year" ("Bobby's Wild Years") and thereby earns a place in this column.

Creating a stage persona is a convenient way to dip a toe (and perhaps a polished toenail) into the queer world. Both of Montreal's Kevin Barnes' (and his alter-ego Georgie Fruit) and actor/musician Shaun Fleming (and his alter-ego Diane Coffee) know a thing or two about that.

It's important to remember that Barnes has been playing at this sexually ambiguous flirtation at least /since of Montreal's fourth album, 1999's The Gay Parade. It doesn't hurt that the songs on Ur Fun (Polyvinyl) are also heavily dance-oriented only increasing the appeal to LGBTQ+ listeners. The combination of the irresistible dance beats and the strong '80s influence of songs such as "Peace To All Freaks," "Gypsy That Remains," "You've Had Me Everywhere" and "St. Sebastian" guarantee that fun will be had by all who listen.

It's not too late to investigate Internet Arms (Polyvinyl), the third album by Diane Coffee. Also boasting an unmistakable '80s sonic influence from start to finish, while the subject matter on songs such as "Stimulation" and the title track leave no doubt that this is a 21st-century effort.

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