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Music & Concerts

Too much ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’?

New Aretha symphonic album so deferential it robs fans of new experience



A Brand New Me, gay news, washington blade

Aretha Franklin was not involved in her new album ‘A Brand New Me,’ at least in terms of the present day. Her vintage vocals and arrangements were replicated on a new project. (Photo courtesy Rhino)

As audiences for traditional classical concerts continue to decline and our symphony orchestras are forced to get creative to stay viable, the trend of pop and rock acts performing with “full orchestra,” usually on stage but sometimes on recordings as well, continues to draw highly mixed results.

Here in Washington, we’ve seen acts such as the Indigo Girls, Ledisi and Babyface perform with the NSO Pops in recent months. These outings are rarely unpleasant — they just tend to highlight the inherent differences of orchestral and pop/rock music.

Even an artist whose catalogue you’d think would be a little better suited to the idea such as that of Diana Ross, who performed with the NSO Pops in Dec. 2016, never proves as transcendent in actuality as in theory. Melissa Etheridge is coming in 2018. I mean, yeah, she’s great, but doesn’t the fact that anybody would think to pair up Etheridge and an orchestra prove we’ve jumped some kind of heretofore unimagined cultural shark?

The string players end up sawing away for long periods while the horns punctuate phrases here and there and take many of the same solos that were present in the original arrangements. One imagines the NSO players are practically climbing the walls in boredom while a core pop/rock ensemble in the center does all the heavy lifting. Rarely have I heard anyone — Mika’s “No Place in Heaven (Special Edition)” with the Montreal Symphony is a delicious exception — do anything terribly interesting in these endeavors.

The new album “A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” is the same idea — it sounds like fun on paper but the results amount to little more than a glorified remastering. You walk away with (almost) the same feeling you had after watching Gus Van Sant’s (almost) shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho.” What was the point?

The brainchild of producers Nick Patrick and Don Reedman, the team behind a similar series of albums on Elvis Presley (Franklin was not involved in any contemporary sense), “Brand New Me” takes Franklin’s vintage classic recordings on Atlantic and augments them with new orchestrations, backing vocals and rhythm tracks. The release is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Franklin’s classic “Respect.”

The main problems are two-fold: one, Franklin’s isolated period vocals of the era were lost in a fire decades ago so there was no way (even with today’s technology — go figure) to totally separate her vocals from the original recordings. The best they could do was boost mix levels but the result, while not exactly muddy, majorly limits the possibilities. Unlike, for example, the surprisingly delightful Motown Remixed albums from 2005 and 2007, the arrangers here were severely limited by the overall sonic architecture of Franklin’s original tracks.

Even in areas where they could have cut loose a bit more — like extended intros or instrumental solos — they opt for little more than bland string noodling for a few measures before the original rhythm arrangements kick in and you barely notice the symphony once Franklin starts cooking. Part of that, sure, is just because Franklin’s classic vocals really are that great. When she’s in the room, it’s hard to focus on anything but her. Yet the arrangements are so lacking in imagination, it’s pitiful.

These types always give the same stock answers when pressed. “Oh, we wanted to stay true to the original flavor of the arrangements” and to mess with a classic too much is akin to sonic sacrilege. That’s a cop out, though. If you’re too deferential you end up robbing fans of any sense of a new experience and that’s exactly what the team here has done.

Oh sure, classic cuts like “Don’t Play That Song,” “Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer” go down as easy and as thrilling as they ever did and have just a touch more fizz here and there. But after about 30 seconds you almost forget you’re listening to anything other than the originals. “Think” has the new intro that segues most effectively into the song. And the strings swell nicely and have a few brief passages that are different from the original arrangements on “Oh Me Oh My” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” but the end result overall is disappointing.

Yeah, it could have backfired but I wish they’d have stuck their necks out and tried something a little more brazen and creative. The only good thing I can say is that, while a little covers heavy (although so was Aretha’s Atlantic output in fairness), they chose their candidates fairly well and sequenced them nicely.


Music & Concerts

New dance single pays tribute to Town Danceboutique

Local musicians pen ‘Town’ in honor of shuttered club



Bryce Bowyn (Photo by Clarissa Villondo)

The closing of the LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique in the summer of 2017 was heartbreaking to local musician Bryce Bowyn. He and his Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter friend Lexie Martin decided to honor its legacy in their new single, “Town.”

For Bowyn, who moved to the District about a decade ago to attend school at American University, the memories he has from Town Danceboutique are endless. And when it closed, it was a massive loss to Bowyn and many others. 

“It was such a cool space,” Bowyn said. “It was just disappointing to see a place that brought so many people together become part of the landscape again.” The building Town Danceboutique used to be housed in is now home to upscale apartments and a CVS. 

Town Danceboutique was a formative place for Bowyn and Martin, and it was Bowyn’s first experience in an open and accepting LGBTQ environment. His favorite memories at the club were always on Halloween, he said. Patrons, including Bowyn, would go all out with their costumes to look their very best. 

Bowyn and Martin met while they were both in the musical theater program at American University. Despite their years-long friendship, “Town” is the first song they have written together. They sat down over FaceTime and got to work. It was Martin’s idea to pay homage to Town Danceboutique, and the song follows the story of pre-gaming, going out, and hitting the dance floor. 

But the single also serves as a hype song for going out in any city, at any place. 

“It was important to me for the song to remain relatable and accessible,” Bowyn said. “So the whole foundation of the chorus, ‘Let’s go to town,’ can either mean Town Danceboutique, or painting the town red and having the night of your life.”

Bowyn started writing and producing his own music in 2018. He released an EP titled “A Rosy Retrospect” in 2022, and most recently released a single “A Bridge Burned Down” in June. His music is inspired by late 2000s pop and ‘80s synthpop, influenced by stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. Lexie Martin released her self-titled EP in 2019 and most recently came out with her single “SUPERPOWER” in 2021. 

Bowyn has been a lifelong pop music enthusiast. He distinctly remembers watching Britney Spears perform “Oops!…I Did It Again” at the MTV Video Music Awards when he was a kid and thinking “That was what I wanted and what I was set to do in life.”

“My heart was always with pop music,” Bowyn said. 

“Town” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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Music & Concerts

From Monáe to Madonna, fall will rock in D.C.

Local venues hosting array of queer artists in coming months



Madonna’s delayed tour is slated to hit D.C. Dec. 18 and 19. (Screen capture via YouTube)

The D.C. area has many LGBTQ musical acts to look forward to this fall. Starting with pansexual and nonbinary actor and R&B singer Janelle Monáe, performing at the Anthem on Sept. 24-25 with ticket prices ranging from $135 to $301 on StubHub.

Janelle Monáe comes to the Anthem later this month. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Singer Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth Tour” is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 26-27. Tickets are available on StubHub starting at $324.

On Sept. 28 the CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore will see lesbian pop artist SZA’s “SOS Tour” with tickets starting at $165 on Ticketmaster. 

Queer indie pop singer Ashnikko is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 29 to perform their “Weedkiller Tour.” Tickets available on StubHub range from $49 to $279.

Coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., is the All Things Go Festival. Performing are lesbian singers Tegan and Sara, alt-pop singer Lana Del Rey, pop singer Carly Rae Jepson, and more. The festival will take place Sept. 30-Oct. 1 with two day passes starting at $397 on SeatGeek.  

Rock band Queen will perform “The Rhapsody Tour” at the CFG Bank Arena along with Adam Lambert on Oct. 4-5. Tickets are starting at $181 on Ticketmaster. 

Pop star and trans woman Kim Petras’ “Feed the Beast World Tour” will reach the Anthem on Oct 12. Tickets range from $72 to $817 on StubHub. 

Kim Petras brings the ‘Feed the Beast World Tour’ to the Anthem in October. (Photo by Thom Kerr)

Queer pop singer Kesha is coming to the Anthem on Oct. 29 to support her new album, “Gag Order.” Tickets go from $86 to $261 on Event Ticket Center. 

Queer pop rapper Shygirl is co-headlining with bisexual singer Tinashe for the “Nymph” tour at the Anthem on Nov. 5. Tickets range from $45 to $145 on Ticketmaster.

Indie band Men I Trust is performing at Echostage on Nov. 15. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster for $30. 

Nonbinary rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s “PINK TAPE TOUR” will be at the Anthem on Nov. 21. Tickets start at $90 on StubHub. 

Doja Cat’s “The Scarlett Tour” will reach Capital One Arena on Nov. 27. Tickets start at $100 on Ticketmaster. 

Madonna will bring her highly anticipated and delayed “The Celebration Tour” to the Capital One Arena Dec. 18 and 19. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster starting at $110.

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Music & Concerts

Tom Goss to perform at Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend

Out singer entertains at the Sands Hotel



Tom Goss (Photo by Dusti Cunningham)

Out singer Tom Goss will perform at the Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Sands Hotel. 

He will sing his memorable songs like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bears,” as well as tracks from his new album, “Remember What It Feels Like,” where he sings about being a 42-year-old gay man still reeling from his husband’s infidelity who was recently conned by a lover with a secret life now serving time in prison. 

Tickets to Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend start at $20 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

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