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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gay Dinosaurs and Others
by Gregg Shapiro
2003-06-18

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** Urban Twang @ Wise Fools Pub ( 773-929-1300 ) June 21

** The Beth Davis Band @ The Patch ( 708-891-9854 ) July 5

As a member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus, Eric Idle was no stranger to cross-dressing.

On his new comedy CD The Rutland Isles with your host Nigel Spam ( iMusic/BMG ) , the hetero Idle camps it up in a gay way. While

researching the 'fossil record,' Spam meets a man who studies the bottoms of extinct creatures and discovers the 'many types of gay

dinosaurs' and even introduces us to Flipper Minnelli, a dolphin who impersonates Liza Minnelli in a San Diego 'very wildlife park.'

On a similar note, the 'Gay Animal Song' ( 'ten per cent of nature's bent/at least that's what they say' ) is destined to become a

comedic classic.

For a straight man, Harold Arlen had an uncanny gift for writing songs with which the gay community could connect. After all,

Arlen wrote 'Over The Rainbow' and 'Get Happy,' to name a couple. Those songs, and others, are on the TV soundtrack to Stormy

Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen. If you can't gauge the queer quotient from those song titles alone, perhaps mentioning the

names of some of the performers on the CD might help. Out artists such as Rufus Wainwright ( 'It's Only A Paper Moon,' 'I Wonder

What Became of Me' ) , Sandra Bernhard ( 'Come Rain or Come Shine' ) , Hawksley Workman ( 'I've Got The World On A String' ) , and

icons such as Deborah Harry ( 'Stormy Weather/Ill Wind' ) and former New York Doll David Johansen ( 'Kickin' The Gong Around' ) ,

among others help to make this tribute a gay affair.

Because of infectious songs such as the Dar Williams-esque 'Turning Song,' the high-flying 'Seagull,' the heavenly electro-pop

of 'Heaven,' 'For These Hearts,' the piano and guitar-guided 'Waiting For Grace,' the simmering country of 'Home,' the unusual 'The

Strangest Dream,' and the gorgeous piano and vocal album closer 'Spark,' Boy In A Dress ( namolibrennet .com ) by Namoli Brennet

has become one of my favorite recent discs by a queer artist. Brennet's expressive vocals, soulful and soothing, are the perfect

vehicle for his songs which cover a range of emotions. Like other queer acoustic-based artists, such as Testosterone Kills, Brennet

successfully merges electronic beats with organic instrumentation for riveting results.

Undeniably sexy in a seventies sexual-revolutionary kind of way, Mad Dogs & San Franciscans ( Black Beauty ) by modern-day

jazz-rock fusion group Mushroom sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a grainy vintage gay porn flick in which the men where

tube socks and nothing else. Visions of Casey Donovan will dance in your head when you hear the instrumental 'The Revolution Will

Not Be Televised, But It Will Be Auctioned Off On E-Bay.' Cranking up the queer quotient several notches is the presence of

substantial, openly gay Sister Double Happiness lead singer Gary Floyd. What he does with Curtis Mayfield's 'Pusherman' suggests

a different kind of pushing. The 'Delta Lady' in Leon Russell's song could very well have a five o'clock shadow and his interpretation

of Spirit's 'I've Got A Line On You' is every bit as good as the original. 'Water' is the second Pete Townshend song covered by a gay

man ( 'And I Moved' by Mark Weigle is the first ) this year and I have to wonder if it is the beginning of a trend. The album closes with

the best version of 'Space Captain' I have heard since Barbra Joan Streisand recorded it more than 30 years ago.

Cover tunes are also the order of the day on Togetherness ( Bar/None ) , the remarkable collaboration between ( Gretchen ) Phillips

& ( David ) Driver. Both Phillips & Driver have, in their own rights, had impressive careers before teaming up together to record this

album. Phillips is probably best known as the driving force behind legendary lesbian rock bands 2 Nice Girls and Girls In The Nose.

Driver did time on the stage in musicals and also fronted bands such as Meow and Driver Quartet. Together they bring Austin, Texas,

and New York City in a way that I've never heard before. There is an equal balance of torch and twang that is so refreshing it is like

hearing these songs, many of which will be recognizable to listeners, for the very first time. The most obvious examples, Leonard

Cohen's 'Joan Of Arc' ( which is equal to the version performed by Cohen and Jennifer Warnes on her Famous Blue Raincoat album ) ,

Badfinger's 'Day By Day' ( probably the best song on the disc ) , Barry Manilow's 'Could It Be Magic?,' 'Ready For Love' by Bad

Company ( a band that 2 Nice Girls covered ) , and Vince ( Charlie Brown ) Guaraldi's 'Cast Your Fate To The Wind,' have a fresh new

coat of paint and shine like there's no tomorrow. The two originals, Phillips' 'Lesson' and Driver's 'Oh Starsky,' deserve to become as

familiar as the other songs.

Openly queer harmony vocalist Joe Coffey helps gives insurgent country band Urban Twang its community edge on their album

Vintage ( Sweet Pickle ) . Longtime collaborators Trish Clausen and Max Getzel have evolved their musical sound over 20 years to

include pop ska before cluing in to the Americana vibe. Clausen's emotive vocals give Urban Twang an advantage over many of the

male-led insurgent country bands, providing the songs with an abundance of down-home big-city warmth. Standout tracks include

'Better Days,' the reel of 'I Look Good In Black,' the stripped down 'Acquiescence' ( which reminded me of vintage Everything But The

Girl ) , Clausen's Neko Case-like belt on 'Something More,' and the twirling two-step of 'Pink To Blue.'

If there is one consistent element in the world of LGBT music, it is the dominance of women in the scene. The Irish duo Zrazy

( Carole Nelson and Maria Walsh ) are one of the most visible lesbian groups, consistently touring across North America. Because of

their constant touring schedule, it makes sense that they would release a live album. Living Our Lives ( Alfi ) is made up of songs from

Zrazy's three studio discs, as well as three new songs ( 'Amen,' 'If My Love Were A River' and 'Going Up' ) , and a lovely piano and

vocal version of 'How Can I Be Sure,' a song that Zrazy contributed to the Dusty Springfield tribute disc Forever Dusty.

Because the supply of lesbian singer/songwriters seems to be limitless, it is that much more imperative that each woman creates

a unique sound. Beth Davis does just that on Savage House ( 10th Child ) . Based in Indianapolis, not a place one would automatically

identify with lesbian musicians, Davis writes songs with a country-blues edge, kind of like a queer Susan Tedeschi. 'Fallin' Down' is a

toe-tapping tune that sounds like a country radio hit, while most of the remaining tunes are a mix of more straightforward blues ( 'Can't

Forget You Blue,' 'Free,' 'I Got A Weapon,' and the early Melissa Etheridge echo of 'I Don't Think So' ) and acoustic-based numbers

such as 'I Am' and 'How Could It Have Been.'

Norine Braun describes the songs on Now & Zen ( Braun and Brains ) as 'ambient soul pop with elements of hip hop, jazz and

punk,' and she's right. The sheer variety sets Braun apart. She lures the listener in with the melodic pop of 'Jade,' and shifts gears on

the darkly laid out folk of the title track. 'Intimate Hour' and 'Buffalo Nights,' respectively, deliver the hip hop and jazz vocal touches

referred to by Braun, while funk and punk, respectively, butt heads on 'J'en Suis Desolee' and 'I'm The 1.' And that's just the first half

of the disc.

A number of the lesbian singer/songwriters have taken an acoustically driven direction. I had been reading a lot about Ellis, one

such singer, before I actually heard her third solo disc Everything That's Real. I think it was a case of too much hype, as I was

somewhat disappointed in what I heard. However, with her latest album, Tigers Above Tigers Below ( Rubberneck ) , Ellis has made

me a convert. Backed up by a group of terrific musicians, including Julie Wolf and out singer/songwriter Erika Luckett, Ellis begins

things on an uplifting note with 'Give Me Your Hand.' The high quality of the songwriting and performance is consistent throughout

the album, and songs such as 'Liberty' ( with Wolf playing accordion ) , 'Expendable,' 'Nothin' New,' and 'As You Are,' indicate that

Ellis is an artist whose time has come.

Young, queer anti-folk artist Jenn Lindsay reminds me of early Suzanne Vega on her album Gotta Lotta ( No Evil Star ) . The Lower

East Side references and her phrasing have something to do with it, and her better than average songwriting also plays a part. I was

somewhat less taken with Fly ( PassionFruit Produce ) by Martine Locke, because I couldn't find much on the album to distinguish her

from the rest of the women in the field. However, songs such as 'Crazy' and '50 Windows' deserve a listen.

Just as the all-female hard punk rock band Betty Blowtorch was starting to heat up, the fire went out when band member Bianca

Butthole died in a car accident in 2001. Betty Blowtorch, which counted openly gay Blare N. Bitch as one fourth of the group, rocked

the house like nobody's business. Last Call ( Foodchain ) , a 29-track compilation of live tracks, outtakes and rare tracks sums up the

quartet's brief history via songs such as 'Party 'Til Ya Puke,' 'Fish Taco,' 'Van,' 'Teenage Whore,' and 'Size Queen.'

Effigy ( YoYo ) by Nomy Lamm, the self-described 'badass fatass jew dyke amputee, performance artist, writer and activist' is a

synth-beat concoction the criss-crosses melodic mantras with hip hop rhymes ( 'Like Heaven's Gates Are Closed' ) for a unique

listening experience. 'Miracle,' with its accordion and violin, sounds like an old world cabaret number and the spoken word

monologue of 'Spell #9' reveals yet another side of this multifaceted artist. 'Not A Girl' is evocative electroclash, 'Tear Up The

Basement' is a punk parody of girl group sentiments, and Lamm's cover of Sinead O'Connor's 'Just Like You Said It Would Be,' is an

honorable tribute to the writer.


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