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SPRING ARTS 2020: Adam, Sam, Rufus, Gaga and more

Uber-queer spring brings spate of highly anticipated new albums

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albums, gay news, Washington Blade
Lady Gaga (Photo courtesy of Might Real Agency)

The excitement for upcoming new music releases is palpable and much of the blame can be pinned on Lady Gaga. The surprise release of her single “Stupid Love” foregrounds her new album “Chromatica,” which will be released in April. But that’s not the only musical event worth our attention in the coming months, although it’s certainly the biggest.

Today (March 13) Niall Horan releases his album “Heartbreak Weather.” This is the second solo album by the former One Direction member, who has continued to put out successful hits, including “Slow Hands” and “This Town,” after the boy band’s split up.  

Saturday, March 14 sees the release of the queercore band Middle-Aged Queers’ debut album, “Too Fag For Love.”

On Friday, March 20 Adam Lambert is set to release his fourth studio album, entitled“Velvet.” The fantastically talented Lambert, who has toured with Queen+Adam Lambert (comprised of original members of Queen with Lambert serving as lead vocalist), remains something of a gay icon since appearing on “American Idol” in 2009. 

On the same day, “ALICIA,” Alicia Keys’ latest album, will be released. So far three singles have been released from the new album, “Show Me Love,” “Time Machine” and “Underdog,” which was released earlier this year along with a new music video.

The pop-punk boyband 5 Seconds of Summer (or 5SOS)will release its fourth studio album, “Calm,” on March 27. Touring early on with One Direction, the group has continued to made their own way well after One Direction dissipated. So far they have released four singles, including the popular “Easier,” which has nearly 200 million streams on Spotify.

Also on March 27, Sufjan Stevens will release“Aporia,” his first full album in five years. That isn’t to say that the Brooklyn-based singer has not been busy in the meantime. His music is everywhere lately. He has worked on the soundtrack for a number of recent film projects, including Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 “Call Me By Your Name.” And the song “Chicago” from his fantastic 2005 album “Illinois” serves as the theme for Ryan Murphy’s Netflix show “The Politician,” starring Ben Platt.

Vanessa Carlton is expected to release her sixth studio album,“Love Is An Art,” on the same day. It’s unlikely there’s a single person who doesn’t know “A Thousand Miles,” her monster hit. In fact, her debut album “Be Not Nobody” (2002) is the only one of albums to enjoy major success. Carlton has nevertheless continued to produce music.

On April 3, Nina Simone’s album 1982  “Fodder On My Wings” will be re-released widely in digital and physical format. It offers a chance to become reacquainted with one of the iconic R&B singer’s lesser-known albums.

Queer New York-based artist Stefan Alexander releases his sophomore EP “Cry Again” on April 3. 

The highlight of the spring album releases is without a doubt Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica” on April 10. Nearly every project she has been involved in has been a success, including her starring role alongside Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born” (2018). The song “Shallow,” sung by Gaga and Cooper, won Best Original Song at the Golden Globes and Oscars. But if the new single “Stupid Love” is any indication, “Chromatica” will be something of a return to an earlier iteration of Gaga, something more akin to the musical style of “Born This Way” (2011) than to the more experimental “Art Pop” (2013) and “Joanne” (2016). Her highly limited spring tour isn’t coming to Washington. 

Peggy Lee’s centennial year is being celebrated with various events. “Ultimate Peggy Lee” drops April 17 and features a 57-year-old unreleased track. 

On April 24, Rufus Wainwright’s new album“Unfollow The Rules” will be released. In anticipation of the new record, the gay singer-songwriter released singles “Damsel In Distress” and “Trouble In Paradise” earlier this year. 

Indigo Girls release their new album “Long Look” on April 24, their first since 2015. They’ve reunited with producer John Reynolds who produced their ’99 album “Come On Now Social.” They play Rehoboth May 2. 

Indigo Girls (Photo by Jeremy Cowart)

Sam Smith, a gay artist who recently came out as non-binary, will release“To Die For” on May 1, a follow-up to the widely successful “The Thrill Of It All” (2017) and “In The Lonely Hour” (2014). Four singles have been released thus far, including “Dancing with a Stranger” and the eponymous “To Die For,” released earlier this year.

The ’80s rock band The Psychedelic Furs will put out a new album, entitled “Made Of Rain,” also on May 1. The group, which continues to tour the world, has enjoyed renewed interest after their hit song “Love My Way” from the 1982 album “Forever Now” was featured in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Also May 1, the reconvened Dixie Chicks release their first new album in a whopping 14 years — “Gaslighter.”

Additionally, ’90s rocker Alanis Morissette will release her ninth studio album,“Such Pretty Forks in the Road,” on that day. It’s her first album since “Havoc and Bright Lights” in 2012.

Hayley Williams, lead singer of the pop rock group Paramore (the song “Misery Business” was one of their most popular), will release her first album as a solo artist on May 8, entitled “Petals For Armor,” following after the EP “Petals for Armor I,” which was released in February.

MAX’s new album “Colour Vision” drops May 22. He’s straight but has headlined at Capital Pride as an ally.  

MAX (Photo courtesy Donovan PR)

In addition to the officially scheduled releases, there is still a number of possible releases. The French singer Christine and the Queens recently the EP “La vita nuova.” And we might also expect a forthcoming album from transmasculine artist Jakk Fynn, who released his debut EP, entitled “Cancelled” back in February. Hope remains for new music from Rihanna, Adele and Cardi B. Janet Jackson has announced a summer U.S. tour and teased new music but nothing concrete yet album wise. 

There’s lot of cool stuff slated for release on vinyl, too. Among highlights:

Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album is out in a 35th anniversary edition on “peaches-and-cream”-colored double vinyl with a deluxe booklet for $70. 

ABBA “Live at Wembley Arena” is a triple-LP set out today.

Perfume Genius’s fifth album “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” is out on double “Coke-bottle green” vinyl May 15.

And there are several cool releases planned for Record Store Day (April 18): 

Britney’s “Oops! …  I Did it Again (Remixes and B-sides)”

Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” on 12” picture disc

• Two k.d. lang albums debut on vinyl — “Drag” and “Angel With a Lariat”

Bob Mould’s “Circle of Friends,” music from the concert film, debuts on vinyl for the first time 

Robyn’s eponymous debut makes it vinyl debut on double LP

Sam Smith’s cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” gets a 12” picture disc release

Tegan and Sara’s “Tonight in the Dark We’re Seeing Colors” on “violet with black splatter” vinyl

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Music & Concerts

Streisand’s ‘Live at the Bon Soir’: Birth of a diva

Album finally released 50 years after being recorded

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Album cover for 'Barbara Sreisand: Live at the Bon Soir.'

Happy days are here again!

Sixty years ago, for three nights in November 1962, Columbia Records recorded a young (20-year-old) singer as she performed at the Bon Soir, a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. The singer’s name was Barbra Streisand, and the recording was slated to be her debut album. Streisand wasn’t that widely known then. But as (the character) Miss Marmelstein, Streisand was stopping the show nightly in the Broadway production “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.” After the show’s curtain call, she took a cab to perform at the Bon Soir club, according to the website barbra-archives.info.

But though the recording of Streisand live at the Village club was talked about the way you’d chat about an awesome legend, the album was shelved for more than half a century. Instead of releasing the “Live at the Bon Soir,” Columbia in 1963 released “The Barbra Streisand Album” (which was recorded in a studio) as Streisand’s debut album.

If you’re queer, you know Streisand rules! To the delight of critics, fans and mid-century history aficionados, on Nov. 4, six decades after it was recorded, “Live at the Bon Soir,” wonderfully remastered, was released on vinyl and SACD. It is also available on streaming services.

If you’ve fantasized about spending an intimate evening with Streisand (Barbra singing and engaging in witty repartee for just you and your intimates), “Live at the Bon Soir” is a dream come true. When Streisand says, “I wish there were another word for thank you…I mean, like, anything, you know” and introduces the club audience to her “boyfriend’s suit,” you feel that she’s talking directly to you.

Streisand’s voice is at its youthful, gorgeous best and her one-of-a-spectacular-kind personality comes through in her banter between songs. Listening to the album is an immersive experience. You’re witnessing the birth of a diva.

The album’s 24 tracks range from an indelible version of the torch song “Cry Me a River” to a playful rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

One of the best things about “Live at the Bon Soir” is its comprehensive, illuminating liner notes. Produced by Streisand, Martin Erlichman and Jay Landers, the CD of the album is packaged in a hardcover book with 32 pages of historical notes, photos and a message from Streisand. The vinyl version comes with a 12-page booklet. The notes provide insight into not only the making of the album, but of most interest to Streisand devotees, what it was like to perform live at the beginning of her career.

“I had never even been in a nightclub until I sang in one,” Streisand writes in the album’s liner notes about performing at and recording “Live at the Bon Soir.”

“I sang two songs in a talent contest at a little club called the Lion and won,” Streisand adds, “which led to being hired at a more sophisticated supper club around the corner called the Bon Soir, with an actual stage and a spotlight.”

The sound on the restored version of “Live at the Bon Soir” is much better than it was on the original recording.

“The science of recording has made quantum leaps since 1962,” writes Landers on the album’s liner notes, “Grammy Award winning engineer, Jochem van der Saag, has subtly solved audio issues in ways his predecessors could hardly have fathomed.”

Streisand has recorded albums with political and contemporary songs. These recordings are often superb. (Is anything by Streisand ever remotely bad?)

But “Live at the Bon Soir” is a gift to anyone who loves standards from the American song-book – from “I Hate Music” (Leonard Bernstein) to “Right as the Rain” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg) to “Come To The Supermarket (in Old Peking)” (Cole Porter) to “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellen/Milton Ager).

Even if you’re allergic to show tunes, you’ll be entranced by “Live at the Bon Soir.”

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Music & Concerts

Riding the joy train with Amy Ray

New solo project ‘If It All Goes South’ focuses on healing

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Amy Ray’s new solo album ‘If It All Goes South’ is out now. (Photo by Sandlin Gaither)

Whether out singer/songwriter Amy Ray is performing with longtime musical partner Emily Saliers as one half of the Indigo Girls, as she has since the mid-1980s, or going solo as she did with her solo debut “Stag” in 2001, you recognize her instantly. Her distinctive vocal style, which suits whatever genre she’s performing – folk, punk, Americana, or gospel – has become as much her trademark as the outspokenness of her lyrics. 

“If It All Goes South” (Daemon), Ray’s exceptional seventh solo album is a welcome addition to her singular output, touching on themes of queerness and social issues, all performed in her warm and welcoming manner. Amy was gracious enough to make time to talk about the new album around the time of its release. 

BLADE: Before we get to your new album “If It All Goes South,” I wanted to go back in time a little bit. Your 2001 solo debut album “Stag” and its 2005 follow-up “Prom” are firmly rooted in a punk rock/riot grrrl aesthetic. While the Indigo Girls are more than capable of rocking out, did you feel that the songs on those albums wouldn’t have been a good fit for what you do with Emily (Saliers)?

AMY RAY: Yes. I think it was because of two things. One was the collaborators. Those were people I’m a fan of, most of them are people that Daemon Records (Ray’s record label) had an association with, in some way or another. It was kind of like this other camp of people that were different from the collaborators that the Indigos would typically play with. It tended to be more studio accurate, in some ways. As opposed to that punk rock ethic which is music being from a different place, and accuracy maybe being less important than technical prowess.

BLADE: A little more DIY.

RAY: Yeah! And I also think the subject matter, the songs were just a little more singular in a way that was hard to do them as the Indigo Girls and not dilute the message. As soon as you get us together, we really shift the other person’s song, it becomes a duet. The subject matter to me was so specific and gender queer and punk rock edge that it didn’t feel like it would work. At that time, when I wrote (the song) “Lucy Stoners,” Emily wasn’t interested in doing some of those songs. She wasn’t down with the attitude. Now, she would say, I’m sure just knowing her, that [laughs] she’d do it now. Because her attitude has changed. I was hanging out with and influenced by people that were from that DIY movement, and there was lots of gender queer conversation. It was a different place than Emily was in as a gay person. Now, I look back on all of it and I think I was, all the time, reaching around to different collaborations because I love collaborating with different kinds of people. It always teaches me something. It’s also a different itch that I get scratch.

BLADE: In terms of trajectory, to my ear, your most recent three solo albums – 2014’s “Goodnight Tender,” 2018’s “Holler,” and the new one, “If It All Goes South” (Daemon) – in addition to being alphabetically titled, feel like an Americana trilogy. Do you consider them to be linked?

RAY: Yeah. I mean I didn’t say to myself, “This is the third one and then I’ll stop.” But “If It All Goes South” was definitely a record where there was a thread from the other ones and some things that I wanted to achieve that I didn’t feel like I was able to do on the other ones. I think I didn’t even know that until we started making this one. This is more successful at combining a few of my punk-abilly influences into an Americana world. Also, some of that spontaneity we were starting to get on “Holler.” Now that we’ve played together as long as we have as a band, it was at its peak on this record. I think we just needed to make a couple of records to get to that place. I like them all, but for different reasons. They do different things for me. This one gathers up all the loose ends of “Holler” and “Goodnight Tender” musically and ties them up and puts them in a different context, and almost raises the bar. Lyrically, I wanted to have songs that were about healing, a “you’re not alone” kind of vibe, because of the time period that we had just been through. It’s also the same producer (Brian Speiser) on all three, and we’ve worked together on projects. It started off casually – “Hey, I’ve been wanting to do this country record with these songs. Let’s do this together.”

BLADE: Am I reading too much into the album’s title “If It All Goes South,” or is it a play on words, as in “goes south” as a direction and as deterioration?

RAY: You’re not reading too much into it. There’s even more you can read into it, politically. When I was writing (the song) “Chuck Will’s Widow,” Georgia was the epicenter of some big political movement. When Warnock got elected and Abrams declared running for governor again, I was like, “Oh man, I’m in the right place for once.” But we knew it wasn’t always going to be easy. My perspective in that song was a couple things. “If it all goes South, count it as a blessing, that’s where you are.” Yes, it’s directional, and also like, if things get really shitty, try to make the best of it, of course, it’s what you tell your kids all the time.

BLADE: As any Indigo Girls fan or follower of your solo output knows, you have a history of playing well with others, in addition to Emily (Saliers), “If It All Goes South” is no exception with guest vocalists including Brandi Carlile (“Subway”), H.C. McEntire (“Muscadine),” Allison Russell (“Tear It Down”), Natalie Hemby (“From This Room”), and the trio I’m With Her (“Chuck Witt’s Widow”). When you begin the recording process for an album do you have a wish list of musical guests or how does that work?

RAY: I usually have a wish list when I’m writing the song. Alison Brown, she’s part of the band, so I always think about her banjo playing when I’m writing. She doesn’t tour with us, but she’s in the band. I started writing “From This Room” a long time ago, and I started writing it as a duet. I didn’t have anybody in mind at that point, but I hadn’t finished it yet. When I was finishing it for the record, I had just seen Natalie Hemby with The Highwomen and had also just had met her and Emily writes with her sometimes. So, I knew her and I was thinking about her voice. When I wrote “Subway,” in part, in tribute to (the late DJ) Rita Houston, who had been so crucial. She and Brandi Carlile were super close. She really helped develop Brandi’s career in being such an indicator station, getting other people on board. So, I was thinking about Brandi and the chorus vocals that would be there because I was writing kind of an ambitious chorus for me [laughs]. I’m like, “I’m gonna have to have Brandi in here!” For “North Star,” that kind of gospel song at the end, when I wrote it and Jeff Fielder, the guitar player, and I were demoing it, I was like, “This is not right. There’s another ingredient. I don’t know enough about the kind of music I’m trying to write to do it.” I got Phil Cook to come in, as a co-writer really, to finish the song musically. Fill out the chords and make it the gospel song I was trying to write. The only person I wanted to do this was Phil Cook. I am just very specific. Like Sarah Jarosz, on this record in particular I wanted to get a mandolin player and I wanted Sarah to play mandolin. We’re always covering the parts ourselves. Jeff’s a great mandolin player, but Sarah Jarosz is a fucking prodigy [laughs]. … It’s never like a wish list of, “Who’s famous? Who can we get?” It’s more a case of who are these songs geared towards, so that when they come into the studio, you don’t tell them anything, really. They just do what they do great, and it works.

BLADE: You mentioned the late, queer, influential WFUV DJ Rita Houston, and I was wondering what you think the loss of Houston means for new artists?

RAY: It’s a huge hole in the universe of people that would take a new artist and sort of help develop them, take chances at radio, and give people that space. She also was a mentor to artists. She wasn’t ever judging your art by whether you were gay or not, or what color your skin was. … She was a mentor in shared musicality. Being able to trust her and understanding how that taught you about the terrain that you’re in and who you can and can’t trust in that way. 

BLADE: “Subway” ends with the line “This Georgia girl has got it bad for New York.” With that in mind, could there be an Amy Ray or Indigo Girls musical on Broadway at some point in the future?

RAY: [Big laugh] That’s Emily’s territory. She’s working on some things. A couple of different musicals, and I’m not working on them with her. She’s developing two different ones, and I think one of them has actually gotten some traction and some workshopping that’s pretty important. There is a musical that a friend of mine from high school has been writing that’s really interesting and it’s gotten a lot of workshops. It’s still in the early stages. It uses Michelle Malone’s music and my solo music. Then there’s a movie coming out called “Glitter and Doom” which is a movie musical that’s just Indigo Girls music. It’s coming out next year, I think. We’re still working on the final credits song.

BLADE: After the current Indigo Girls tour wraps up, is there a possibility of an Amy Ray solo tour?

RAY: Yeah. We’re booking dates in February for the South. I’ve tried touring in cold places in February, and it’s hard [laughs]. We’ll head up to the North in May.

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Music & Concerts

DC Different Drummers Jazz Band to perform ‘Oasis’

Performance by combo ‘2nd Independence’ scheduled

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The DC Different Drummers Jazz Band will perform on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Central Library.

This concert, titled “The Oasis,” will feature the 20-person big band playing jazz pieces in a variety of styles, from swing to bossa nova to jazz fusion and more. There will also be a performance from the improvisational jazz combo, 2nd Independence.

Admission is free and more details are available on the event’s website

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