Q Music: men's men

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday March 21, 2023
Share this Post:
Kurt Wagner with his band  Lambchop
Kurt Wagner with his band Lambchop

Listening to "The Bible" (Merge) by distinctive-voiced Kurt Wagner's Lambchop, one gets the impression that he might have been listening to gay singer/songwriter John Grant, particularly because of the way he blends lush arrangements ("His Song Is Sung") and electronic dance tracks ("Little Black Boxes").

Wagner's singular baritone also gives the songs a timeless quality, as you can hear on the (experimental) piano and vocal number "Daisy," the jazzy "Whatever Mortal," the brassy "Police Dog Blues," and the spoken/sung "Every Child Begins the World Again."

Beginning with his near-perfect 2015 album "I Love You, Honeybear," and continuing through "Pure Comedy" (2017) and "God's Favorite Customer" (2018), Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) has been proving himself to be the (Harry) Nilsson of the 21st century (with a touch of Randy Newman thrown in for good measure). That's a compliment, by the way. If anything, modern pop is sorely lacking in Nilsson influences.

Father John Misty's "Chloë and the Next 20th Century" (Sub Pop) not only continues the sonic tradition he has established, but also comes close to being the kind of linked set of songs that are practically begging for a stage or movie musical adaptation. In other words, "Chloë and the Next 20th Century" is a far better homage to old Hollywood than Damien Chazelle's "Babylon."

Father John Misty will perform at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park (Aug 11-13, date/time TBA) www.fatherjohnmisty.com

At the opposite end of the vocal spectrum, Marlon Williams' blue-eyed soul and twang benefits from him occasionally venturing into his upper register on his new album "My Boy" (Dead Oceans).

You can hear it on the title track, "My Heart the Wormhole," "Don't Go Back," "Soft Boys Make the Grade," and his dazzling cover of "Promises," written by Barry Gibb for Barbra Streisand's "Guilty" album.

On Bret McKenzie's solo debut "Songs Without Jokes" (Sub Pop), Marlon Williams' fellow New Zealander takes a page from Father John Misty's playbook and gives us the Nilsson-inspired "A Little Tune." McKenzie also conjures Billy Joel on "If You Wanna Go" and "America Goodbye."

Best known as one half of the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, the tunes on "Songs Without Jokes" (mostly) live up to the promise of the title, and McKenzie delivers a set of pop numbers worthy of your time.

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is the new reigning king of the concept album. From the painful "Tallahassee" and "The Sunset Tree," all the way through the religion-oriented "The Life of the World to Come," the wrestling-themed "Beat the Champ," and "Goths" (the title speaks for itself), Darnielle has found a formula that works for him, and he appears to be sticking with it.

The Mountain Goats' latest, "Bleed Out" (Merge), pays tribute to (violent) action movies; hence the title. In addition to the revenge anthem opening cut "Training Montage," song titles such as "Mark On You," "Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome," "Extraction Point," "Bones Don't Rust," "First Blood," "Hostages," and "Need More Bandages," tell part of the story, and the music does the rest.

When Freedy Johnston's third album, and major-label debut, "This Perfect World" was released in 1994, it established him as a singer/songwriter of merit. But then, even though the albums that followed were strong, he lost some of the momentum with the public.

Johnston's ninth studio album "Back on the Road to You" (Forty Below) confirms that Johnston hasn't lost his songwriting chops nearly 30 later. The ten songs are catchy (check out "There Goes a Brooklyn Girl"), and the guest vocalists, including Susan Cowsill (yes, that Susan Cowsill) on "The Power of Love," Aimee Mann on "Darlin'," and Susanna Hoffs on "That's Life," all add something special.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.