By Gregg Shapiro
In January 2018, Elton John announced that he would be retiring from touring. His three-year farewell concert tour is sure to be one of the biggest musical events in contemporary 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. However, things go awry on the second disc, especially since this represents a much longer period, 1980 to the present day, a time when the hits were somewhat less plentiful. Because it covers almost more 36 years, during which he released more than 15 studio albums, as well as significant movie soundtracks and original 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 the record, 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, the couple responsible for some of Streisand’s biggest hits, could be the sole nod to Gould’s mother. Also notable are collaborations with legendary lesbian songwriter Marsha Malamet, including “One Day” and “All’s Forgiven”.
Let’s face it, Sam Smith is the gay male Adele. If anything, his new album The Thrill of It All (Capitol) only seals the deal. It’s an unavoidable comparison, especially when Smith opens the disc with a heart-tugging ballad such as “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. There’s nothing here like “Money On My Mind”, “Like I Can”, “Restart” or even “La La La”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as “Say It First”, “Him”, “Burning”, “Palace” and the religious experience of “Pray” (cue gospel choir), demonstrate that Smith knows his strengths.
Awe-inspiring 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 album. Available on CD and 180-gram gorgeous pink vinyl (with a download code included), Shut Up Shut Up (jimandralismusic.com) by Jim Andralis & The Syntonics exceeds all 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 the things that many of us think in song. This is best exemplified by “My Therapist Says”, “Don’t Blame New York”, “I’m A Monster”, “Don’t Trust Me”, the server anthem “Cover My Section” and the title cut.
Half-Light (Nonesuch), Rostam Batmanglij’s second album since his departure from Vampire Weekend (following I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, his 2016 collaboration with Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen) is a radiant musical experience, varied and thrilling. Recording as Rostam, the gay musician has created an awe-inspiring quilt of musical styles and genres that fit together as if they were always meant to be in the same song or on the same album. “Bike Dream” is a sexy, queer number that should be on everyone’s playlist. “Don’t Let It Get To You” marries African rhythms with glitchy tech to create an irresistible excuse for dancing. “Gwan” and the title cut are simply exquisite.
Patrick Boothe, a gay, Austin-based singer/songwriter returns with You Have To Believe We Are Tragic (patrickboothe.com). 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 definitely comes across on the songs “Matter”, “Untouchable”, “Living Man”, “Good People” and “Do Better”.
In recent years, musical genres you might not think of as being particularly welcoming to out, gay men, say country, metal or jazz, for example, have begun to change in beneficial ways. 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 Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind confirms that Ricci (and his band) are a blues force to be reckoned with.
Unlike the blues, 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 “Disco Heat/Mighty Real”, Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy”, and Aretha’s “Rock Steady”) with originals. Ulla Hedwig, one of Bette Midler’s original Harlettes, sings with Marcinak on “We Are What We Are”.
Finally, musical theater has played and continues to play an important role in the lives of gay men. Three recent cast recordings feature significant contributions from gay men. 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 such as 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, Skylar Astin and Santino Fontana. Creative and personal partners Dan Martin and Michael Biello collaborated with Jennifer Robbins on Marry Harry: Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (MarryHarry.com) about the intersection of love and food. Zombie Bathhouse features a book by Brian Kirst and music and lyrics by Scott Free. Fans of Free’s may recognize some of the music from having heard them on his own solo albums.