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FALL ARTS 2018 ALBUMS: Cher, Gaga, Idina and (maybe) Madonna

Diva-heavy fall features ABBA tribute, ‘A Star is Born’ soundtrack and tons more

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fall albums 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

Godmother is a new queer outfit to watch out for. (Photo by Andrey Kezzyn; courtesy Noisy Ghost)

This fall’s album release schedule looks promising for fans of all genres. Several major artists are slated to drop cover albums, several re-releases are in the works and there is lots of new material across the board, including the soundtrack to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s new film “A Star Is Born.”

Friday, Sept. 14 “American Idol” winner and country icon Carrie Underwood releases her new album, “Cry Pretty,” which marks 13 years since the release of her debut album “Some Hearts.” David Guetta, the French DJ and mastermind behind songs like “Sexy B*tch” and “Titanium,” is also out with “7,” his aptly titled seventh studio album. The lead single, “2U” featuring Justin Bieber, has already been a major success, landing at the Billboard no. 16 spot. Willie Nelson’s album of Frank Sinatra covers, “My Way,” will be released today as well.

On Sept. 21, R&B singer Macy Gray comes out with a new album entitled “Ruby” on the heels of her 2016 jazz album, “Stripped,” a major success on the jazz charts. The 21st also sees the release of Piano & A Microphone 1983,” a previously unreleased nine-track recording of Prince at the piano. “Bridges,” the new studio album by Josh Groban which features a cover of Celine Dion’s “S’il suffisait d’aimer,” is also scheduled. His 2015 album “Stages” was a set of wide-ranging Broadway covers that put the singer at the Billboard no. 2 spot.

Also on the 21st and from the other side of the Atlantic queer pop newcomers Godmother release their self-titled debut. And “Bobbie Gentry: the Girl from Chickasaw County — the Complete Capitol Masters” is slated for release featuring eight discs with seven remastered studio albums and a generous stash of 75 unreleased recordings and never-before-issued live tracks taken from her BBC TV series. It’s looking like a holy grail moment for fans of the mysterious “Ode to Billie Joe” singer who pretty much disappeared from the public eye in 1981.

On Sept. 28, Cher is scheduled to release her much anticipated ABBA cover album, “Dancing Queen.” Her first studio release in five years, “Dancing Queen” arrives on the heels of her performance in this year’s “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again,” for which she recorded ABBA’s “Fernando” and “Super Trouper.” She gets the Kennedy Center Honor on Dec. 2 (broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS).

Also on Sept. 28, country legend Loretta Lynn will release “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which features new Lynn-penned originals along with new recordings of two of her classic songs, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin.’” It was delayed last year after Lynn’s stroke. Rod Stewart is slated to release his new record, “Blood Red Roses.” And Amy Ray (Indigo Girls) releases her ninth solo album “Holler” with 14 new songs on double LP and other formats.

On Oct. 5, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga release the soundtrack to their upcoming film “A Star Is Born.” The album is loaded with original music, in addition to a few classics Lady Gaga performs a rendition of “La vie en rose” all recorded live for the film.

Cher’s ABBA tribute album comes out Sept. 28. (Photo courtesy of the Karpel Group)

Idina Menzel is set to release a new live album, entitled “idina, live,” from her 2017 world tour on the same day. The recording includes songs from the musicals “Wicked,” “Rent” and “Frozen.”

Additionally, Oct. 5 sees new music from pop duo Twenty One Pilots. “Trench” is the group’s first release since its 2015 Billboard no. 1 album “Blurryface.” And rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah is out with a new album called “The Lost Tapes.” On the same day, former Journey frontman Steve Perry is slated to release his third solo record, “Traces.” Perry has already put out the lead single “No Erasin,’” along with a new music video.

The fourth in a series of David Bowie boxed sets is scheduled for release on Oct. 12. “Loving The Alien (19831988)” will contain 11 CDs and a 15-piece vinyl set, which includes previously unreleased music and new artwork.

It also looks as though Christmas may come early this year. Also on Oct. 12, English rock legend Eric Clapton is releasing his first Christmas album, “Happy Xmas,” which features a number of classics, including a version of “Jingle Bells.” And RuPaul’s third Christmas album “Ho Ho Ho” came out in 1997 and “Slay Belles,” in 2015 will make its debut in October as well.

Other anticipated but so far unscheduled releases this year are expected from T.I., Madonna, My Bloody Valentine, Zayn, Carly Rae Jepsen and, as always, Frank Ocean. And be prepared for a surprise or two along the way.

A Bobbie Gentry box set is out Sept. 21. (Photo courtesy Universal)

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Music & Concerts

Washington Arts Ensemble to host immersive concert

Creating a dialogue with D.C.’s history and culture

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The Washington Arts Ensemble will host an immersive concert experience on Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at Dupont Underground.

This concert will show how distinct genres influence pop culture and articulate the commonality between classical, jazz, and electronic music while creating a dialogue with D.C.’s history and culture.

Some of the works that will be performed include “Switched-On Bach selections” by Wendy Carlos, “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals by Camile Saint-Saens, among other works.

Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on the Washington Arts Ensemble’s website

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Music & Concerts

John Levengood releases anthem “Say Gay!” to protest discrimination

Slated to perform new song at 2022 Capital Pride Festival in June

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Recording artist John Levengood’s latest song ‘Say Gay!’ is out Friday. (Photo courtesy Levengood)

“Say gay! Say gay! Say gay!
“Say what? Say what?
“One little law won’t shut us up!”

Slated for digital release this Friday, recording artist John Levengood’s latest song “Say Gay!” confronts anti-LGBTQ legislation such as the “Don’t Say Gay” law by encouraging others to “profess their queerness loudly, proudly, and never in the shadows,” Levengood said in a press release shared with the Blade on Tuesday.

On June 12, Levengood is set to perform the song’s live debut at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival in Washington, D.C., to streets teeming with community members, food trucks, and local vendors, according to the press release.

“The rise in oppressive legislation and proposals have many in the LGBTQ+ community alarmed,” the press release says. Levengood “hopes this song can be used as a metaphorical weapon to blast holes in the argument that teaching children about acceptance and diversity is more appropriate at home than school.”

The bill, enacted by the Florida Legislature earlier this year but not yet in force, would limit teachers’ ability to teach LGBTQ topics in some school settings and obligate school officials to disclose students’ sexual orientation and gender identity to their parents upon request.

A D.C. resident himself, Levengood currently works over the weekends as resident host and karaoke emcee at Freddie’s Beach Bar in Arlington, Va., an LGBTQ bar and restaurant.

Levengood is no stranger to the music scene, in 2013 moving through multiple rounds of auditions for the third season of “The X Factor” before coming up short of formally appearing on the show, according to the release.

Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of rural Virginia, the press release added that music has been an outlet for Levengood to express himself from an early age. The new song marks his seventh musical release.

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Music & Concerts

Tori Amos spins magic at Sunday night D.C.-area concert

First show in the area since ’17 finds Gen X icon vocally subdued but musically energized

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As with many veteran rock stars, it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on how hot or cold Tori Amos’s 30-year-old solo career is at the moment. It sometimes seems like she’s moving past the take-her-for-granted-because-she’s-never-away-for-long phase, and there certainly was that sense in the air Sunday night for her D.C.-area stop of her current “Ocean to Ocean Tour,” her first show here since 2017, which, with COVID, feels like a lifetime ago.

But there are also signs that it’s never been chillier for Amos in the overall pop culture landscape. It’s been a decade since she charted a single on any chart and there were no videos or singles from her “Ocean to Ocean” album last fall. It landed just outside the top 100 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album sales chart altogether, a new low that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago when her “regular” (i.e. non-specialty/concept) albums were almost guaranteed a top 10 debut. 

The slide has been swift, too: 2014’s “Unrepentant Geraldines” hit No. 7, the next album (2017’s polarizing “Native Invader”) only made it to 39, then came “Ocean’s” thud at no. 104. There’s a lot you could point to to explain it — streaming, her aging Gen X fan base, the endless undulations of the music industry itself — but in some ways it has started to feel like she’s getting less and less return on her artistic dollar than one would expect. 

Yeah, that always happens with veteran female pop stars once they hit their 50s and beyond, but Amos and her small but mighty fan base, who for decades exhibited a devotion of Grateful Dead-like proportions, outran the trend for so long, to see it finally catching up is a bit bewildering.

But then you go hear her live at a decent-size venue like The Theater at MGM National Harbor (which seats 3,000 and was about 97 percent full), and it feels nearly like old times. Sure, some of the excitement was just that we’re all gagging at being at concerts at all and having mask restrictions and vaccine requirements paused, but there was an electricity that, while mellower than it was at Amos concerts in the ’90s, still felt magical. I’ve never in my life seen so long a line for the merch table.

The concert itself was, for the most part, sublime. It was the first time since 2009 she’s toured with a band and while her solo shows are great too, there was pent-up yearning to hear her unleash full-on with a solid rhythm section (Jon Evans on bass, Ash Soan on drums) again. Beat-heavy songs like “Raspberry Swirl” and “Cornflake Girl” sounded tepid with canned beats the last few times out, so to hear everything truly live (save a few BGVs and effects) last night was heavenly.

It was Gen X queer night out Sunday night at the Theater at MGM National Harbor for Tori Amos’s first concert here since 2017. (Photo by Desmond Murray; courtesy Girlie Action)

The show had special poignancy too, as Amos grew up in the region. She has written and commented heavily on the immense toll her mother’s 2019 death took on her personally and artistically, so that the date happened to be Mother’s Day gave the proceedings added gravitas. “Mother Revolution” and “Jackie’s Strength” spoke, of course, to the holiday, though (and this is quibbling) I would have vastly preferred “Mother” from “Little Earthquakes,” a deep cut we haven’t heard live in eons. 

Tori Amos (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Highlights included the slinky, rhythm-loopy opener “Juarez”; “Ocean to Ocean,” one of three cuts performed from the new record, which shimmered with Philip Glass-like piano arpeggios; the vampy, slinky interplay between the three musicians on “Mother Revolution”; and unexpected fan favorite “Spring Haze.” Amos, overall, is varying up the set list quite a bit less than is her norm, so it was one of the few surprises of the evening. 

The lengths of several of the songs were drawn out considerably. At times — “A Sorta Fairytale,” the aforementioned “Revolution” — that worked well and gave the band time to languidly jam. At other points, it felt a bit self-indulgent and even slightly boring — as on “Sweet Sangria” and “Liquid Diamonds.” 

“Russia,” a bonus cut from the last album, sounded just how it did when Amos performed it here in 2017, but took on added resonance because of current events. Closing line “Is Stalin on your shoulder” was chilling.

Overall, the show — lighting, pacing, everything — largely worked. The sound mix, which fans have said has been muddy at some venues recently on the tour, was pristine. Pacing only lagged a few times in some of the mid-tempo cuts from later albums, but just when you felt some were zoning — the flow of those entering and exiting is a good barometer — Amos whipped things back together with a fan favorite like “Past the Mission” or “Spring Haze.”

It all came to a satisfying, audience-friendly climax with “Cornflake Girl,” then the two encore cuts, “Precious Things” and “Tear in Your Hand,” both from the first album. 

Vocally, the range was there and sounded lovely, but the oomph was considerably held back. Vocal preservation for the many dates ahead? Probably. It’s understandable. Amos, at 58, may lack the stamina she had 20 years ago, but it did feel underwhelming in passages that in years past would have been full on, balls out like the “Bliss” bridge or the “nine-inch nails” passage from “Precious Things.” 

Not one acknowledgment or mention by Amos of the female folk duo openers Companion. I’d have invited them out for a few numbers to sing BGVs. I mean, heck, they’re in the house, why not? And other than the welcome, a brief soliloquy on Mother’s Day was the only Amos comment of the entire night. 

Still Amos never came off as aloof. She seemed genuinely excited to be playing live again and the queer-heavy crowd responded in kind. 

Tori Amos (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)
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