By Gregg Shapiro
A less than subtle branding project by MGM Resorts (yes, you read that right), Universal Love: Wedding Songs Reimagined (Sony) is a six-song EP on which queer and queer allies flip the script on popular tunes, making them about same gender love, intact pronouns and all. Bob Dylan (!), who won an Oscar for “Things Have Changed”, the theme song to the 2000 queer-oriented movie Wonder Boys, maintains his ongoing love affair with the American songbook with his rendition of “He’s Funny That Way”. Death Cab For Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard (who has a lesbian sister) leaves his distinctive mark on the Beatles’ “And I Love Him” and Valerie June belts out Noel Coward’s “Mad About the Girl”. Naturally, queer artists are also represented here. St. Vincent has her way with the Spector/Greenwich/Berry chestnut “And Then She Kissed Me”, Kele Okereke goes for the Motown number “My Guy” and Kesha wails on Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Woman to Love”.
As we are all well aware, various artists compilations such as Universal Love and Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (Rocket/Island) are often a mixed bag. This is especially true in the case of Revamp, beginning with opener “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John, Pink and Logic. It’s the kind of concept that must have looked good on paper, but crashes and burns in its execution. For the most part, the strongest renditions on Revamp are those by artists that honor and expand on the original versions. The best examples include Miley Cyrus (“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”), Lady Gaga (“Your Song”), Florence + The Machine (“Tiny Dancer”), Sam Smith (“Daniel”) and, while they are certainly not Elton and Kiki Dee, Q-Tip and Demi Lovato (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”). Biggest disappointments include Mary J. Blige (the overwrought “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”), Ed Sheeran (the bland “Candle in the Wind”) and Mumford & Sons (the sludgy “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”).
With his beard and bulk, Donovan Woods may look like a bear, but he’s not. So, don’t be misled by the title of this Canadian singer/songwriter’s new album Both Ways (Meant Well); dude is straight. Nevertheless, the incredible music video for the first single, “Burn That Bridge”, features a same-sex male couple performing the dance of new love. The song definitely stands on its own; but you should make a point to see the accompanying video. As for the rest of the album, Woods, who cites Nobel Prize winning short story writer Alice Munro and the late feminist poet Bronwen Wallace among his inspirations, will amaze you on songs such as “Truck Full of Money”, “Our Friend Bobby”, “I Live A Little Lie”, “Next Year” and Rose Cousins duet “I Ain’t Never Loved No One”.
Everywhere you look, more and more same-gender couples and spouses are becoming parents. Whether it’s via adoption, surrogacy or alternative insemination, gay dads and lesbian moms abound. Like their straight counterparts, LGBTQ parents are probably in search of family music that can be enjoyed by one and all. There’s an added bonus when a specifically queer angle exists, as with Songs for the Rainbow Family (Leather/Western) by The Diesel Tykes. Another project of prolific gay musician Scott Free, The Diesel Tykes album features a marvelous assortment of guest musicians including lesbian family musician Laura Doherty (the vegan tune “Adopt A Cow”), lesbian duo Congress of Starlings (“The Out Song”), trans artist Elias Krell (the powerful “Dress Me in Yellow”) and soulful singer JC Brooks (the tropical “Pride and Joy”). Because kids love to dance, Songs for the Rainbow Family gives them plenty of opportunity to move on “LGBT (Alphabet Song)”, “Baby Steps”, “Every Day Is Earth Day” and “Momma and Mommy”.
If the kids (or the adults, for that matter), didn’t get enough dancing on The Diesel Tykes’ album, consider spinning Wild Is Everywhere (Unbreakable Chord) by San Francisco-based Sara Lovell. “Raspberry Pickleberry Wormnut Pie” adds a touch of twang to the electro beats. The aptly titled “Bounce” encourages listeners to “wear your sparkle” and “shake the ceiling and floorboards” as well as the “wall and windows, too”. “I Want It Now” takes a retro path, while “Stand Together” and “How To Love Yourself” have meaningful messages for listeners.
It’s hard to imagine what old man Disney would have thought of one of his former child stars being christened “lesbian Jesus”, so it’s a good thing he’s not here to follow the career of Hayley Kiyoko. A long way from Disney’s other Hayley (Mills, that is), Kiyoko has just released her long-awaited/early anticipated debut album, the ironically titled Expectations (Atlantic). Seriously, you are just asking for trouble with a title like that. So, does it live up to expectations? Yes and no. “What I Need” featuring fellow out artist Kehlani has summertime hit written all over it. “Mercy/Gatekeeper” and “Under The Blue/Take Me In” reveal Kiyoko’s experimental side with promising results. The sunny “Palm Dreams” could benefit from a clubby remix and “Molecules” has an atomic charge. The remainder tends toward the generic, running the risk that Kiyoko could get lost in the young, post-Britney diva shuffle.
You have, no doubt, heard out singer/songwriter Daphne Willis’ funky dance track “Do It Like This” on the Comcast commercial, right? If you’ve been following her since her 2010 debut album, you’re aware of her transformation from latter-day goggles-wearing hippie chick to full-on Nashville funkster. That soulful persona dominates on her latest album Freaks Like Me (Barefeet), especially on songs such as “Dopamine”, “Out of the Black” and “Lose Control”. You can also hear the effect of old Nashville on Willis on the powerful closing ballad “The Letter”.
Maybe you recognize the name of lesbian singer/songwriter Sera Cahoone from when she was in the bands Carissa’s Wierd (sic) or Band of Horses. Perhaps you know her solo work from when she was an artist signed to the legendary Sub Pop Records label. On Cahoone’s new EP, The Flora String Sessions (Lady Muleskinner Records), she performs gorgeously rendered “revisited arrangements” of seven songs from her four previous full-length studio albums.
Pianist and composer Fred Hersch is easily the most productive gay man in the world of jazz, releasing at least one album a year since 2009. Additionally, Hersch found time to write his memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz, which was published in 2017. On his latest live album Live in Europe (Palmetto) with the Fred Hersch Trio, he performs six originals along with two covers each by Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter.