Crossing genres: new country & jazz recordings, and local gigs

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023
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Crossing genres: new country & jazz recordings, and local gigs

Some musical genres, including dance and pop, are more welcoming to LGBTQ folks than others. While it's true that country and jazz have come a long way in recent years, the number of successful and popular out artists in those genres pales in comparison to others. Here are a few notable acts, some who'll soon perform in the Bay Area.

Country club

It's no exaggeration to say that no one else sounds like Melissa Carper. With a vocal style that lands somewhere between Hazel Dickens and Billie Holiday, and a musical sensibility that is reverently retro, Carper creates music that is equally vintage and timeless. "Ramblin' Soul" (Mae Music/Thirty Tigers) is a worthy follow-up to her brilliant 2020 album, "Daddy's Country Gold."

From the rockabilly roll of "1980 Dodge Van" and the front-porch nirvana of "Zen Buddha" to the broken-hearted swing of "That's My Only Regret" and the humorous humdinger "Boxers on Backwards," Carper deserves to be heard by Americana fans from all walks of life.

Melissa Carper performs on January 21, 7:30pm at Amado's in San Francisco; $15-$18. 998 Valencia St.

Ty Herndon's story is one for the ages. A major-label country artist with a string of hit singles and albums, from the mid-to-late 1990s, until a public indecency and drug possession arrest temporarily halted his ascent. Officially coming out in the mid-2010s, Herndon has continued to release albums as an openly queer country artist.

On the deeply personal full-length "Jacob" (Pivotal), featuring the powerful "God Or The Gun," Herndon continues in the vein of contemporary country in which he's been working from the beginning. Co-writer of nine of the album's 11 songs, Herndon is joined by notable guest artists including out lesbian Shelly Fairchild ("Landslide"), as well as Emily West ("Fighting With Me"), Wendy Moten ("Say It For You"), and Terri Clark ("Dents on a Chevy").

In their previous role as the charismatic front-person of the alt-country act Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, River Shook honored the genre with respectful tunes. Putting some distance between that persona and their latest, known as Mightmare, Shook takes some interesting musical risks on "Cruel Liars" (Kill Rock Stars).

For example, incorporating synth instrumentation and beats to good effect on songs such as "Make It Work," "Easy," and the title track. However, the country twang + trill is never far away as you can hear on "Enemy" and "Red."

Mightmare performs March 29, 8:30pm, at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco; $15-$18.

Jazz joint

Incredibly prolific, Grammy-nominated, gay jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch, who has released at least one studio or live recording a year since 2003, returns with "Alive at the Village Vanguard" (Palmetto), on which he's joined by Grammy-winner Esperanza Spalding.

Recorded live in 2018 at the storied music venue, the eight-track album features original compositions ("Dream of Monk" and "A Wish"), as well as interpretations by seminal jazz acts including Charlie Parker ("Little Suede Shoes"), Thelonious Monk ("Evidence"), and heroes of the Great American Songbook, such as the Gershwins ("But Not For Me") and Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne ("Some Other Time").

Fred Hersch performs with Esperanza Spalding on Jan. 26 & 27, 8pm & 10pm at Yoshi's; $64-$99. 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland.

The eight sophisticated and original tunes on young, gender-queer jazz vocalist Samantha Fierke's debut album "Mirage" certainly belies their age. These timeless modern numbers sound like the composer could be several years Fierke's senior. With a voice that sounds like it was meant to sing (and scat) jazz, Fierke has found a way to make even the most jazz-phobic listener welcome in their musical world. Highlights include "Shower Song," "I Remember Butterflies," "Smile Again," and "When People Speak."

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