Marry Me Tori Fixx (A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.)
Tori Fixx doesn’t mince words. In the first line of “Marry Me” Fixx tells Bush to f— off. Fixx, a rapper from Minneapolis, delivers a manifesto for equal marriage rights with “Marry Me,” his fourth solo record. “Y Does It Matter?” addresses the anti-gay right directly, and more effectively than most. “None of y’all really know God like you say you do, and that’s a damn shame, but you know it’s true. And if I want his last name why does it matter to you?” he raps. He may be angry, but his delivery is measured and smooth (a cross between Chingy and Prince). The politics are smoothed over by production that evokes the Neptunes and other hit makers. “Good Thang 2” opens with a fuzzed-out guitar riff that sounds like it’s straight off a Lenny Kravitz album. It isn’t all politics, though. Fixx does know how to have fun and get people moving on the dance floor. “Area Code 404” is lighter in tone with a guest spot from fellow gay hip-hop artist Johnny Dangerous spouting off to an ex. Another notable guest is trans-rapper Katastrophe on “Anthem,” which also features Dutchboy and Aggracyst rapping over an infectious woodwind loop that recalls Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” Listen for yourself at http://www.torifixx.com.
Troubled Times Holcombe Waller (Napoleon)
Using his nearly four octave voice and an acoustic guitar, Holcombe Waller moves between the confessional and the political, proving that the personal is, in fact, both. On “No Enemy” Waller pleads with Condoleeza Rice, who he refers to alternately as “Condoleezz” and “Condie,” to “mend the broken right wing of the state.” Though he never names Bush by name, it’s pretty obvious who he means when he invites us to “watch one monkey chop down the last cherry tree” in the album opener and title track. The bulk of the album isn’t directly political, however. Waller spends most of it painting a tableau of heartbreak and relationships that alternates between bleak and hopeful, often beautiful and always inspired. Though there’s no easy comparison, think Tori Amos crossed with Damien Rice with a dash of Jeff Buckley. At times he meanders, sounding pretty but not really going anywhere climactic, like on “Litany.” But even Waller’s wanderings are so engaging we don’t mind following him along. “Troubled Times” is a record worth buying. In place of the usual FBI duplication warning on the CD is the following: “Unauthorized duplication of this recording generates bad karma.” Repeated listenings, however, will not. Listen at http://www.holcombewaller.com.
Stomping Back On Fire Brian Grillo (Spitshine Records)
Armed with an acoustic guitar and a ton of attitude, former Extra Fancy frontman Brian Grillo takes on Bush & Co. with a punk-folk punch (think John Hiatt with elements of Elvis Costello and The Clash). “You call yourself a leader but you’re just a white ass punk,” he sings, delivering a special message to a certain world leader (hint: rhymes with “tush”) on “Dead or Alive.” The songs were recorded before the 2004 election, but Grillo’s anger and criticism remain just as fresh and relevant today even when his delivery verges on the overwrought. “Stomping Back On Fire” isn’t all politics, however. Grillo spends plenty of time on issues of love, loss and personal conflict. “Just one more day we can lose sight of our dreams. I’ve got some choices that I don’t want to make,” he sings on the pensive “Sunblind.” An album highlight is “Tell Me,” which recalls folk icon Richard Thompson. “It looks nice but how much is it worth? Is it gonna hold me on a cold lonely night?” he sings. The haunting “Luminescent Pain” is another album highlight. Sticking out like a sore thumb is the bonus track “Fuk Yur War,” which sounds like a B-grade Nine Inch Nails rip off. Grillo is stronger on the strings. Listen at http://www.spitshinerecords.com/grillo.
Maybe Maybe Maybe Baby Cheese On Bread (Luv-A-Lot Records)
Way cuter than Will and Grace, Sara FitzSimmons and Dan Fishback are Cheese On Bread, a straight girl/gay boy combo wielding acoustic guitars and an acerbic wit. “Maybe Maybe Maybe Baby” is a no-frills collection of folk-pop fun. Cheese On Bread sing about everything from mating insects to veganism. “I would be a vegan if it weren’t for cheese. I would be so vegan you could feed me to other vegans,” Sara sings on “I Like Cheese.” The duo share the pain of trying to find a decent boyfriend, bickering back and forth on “Where The F— Are They.” Cheese On Bread are constantly straddling the space between silliness and brilliance. When they’re on, they’re on. When they’re off, well, they’re easy to forgive. Lyrically adept, they come up with witty lines like, “I feel like brand new strings on a piece of shit guitar” (“The Kiss Song”). Album highlights include the ethereally ironic “Deconstructionist Romance” and the funky “How Long Have You Been Haitian?” In the and-now-for-something-completely-different department is the throbbing dance send-off “(You’re Just A) Gucci Model,” where they put a pretty boy in his place. You’ll laugh and dance at the same time. Listen to tracks at http://www.cheeseonbread.com.
Let’s F—, Then Talk About My Problems Katastrophe (Sugartruck)
With a title like “Let’s F—, Then Talk About My Problems,” who could resist a listen? Katastrophe (AKA Rocco Kayiatos) is a self-described “hot-shit, somewhat reclusive, over-analytical, FTM emo-hop MC who has rocked the mic, charmed the ladies and educated the masses around the world.” With a style that brings to mind Eminem, whose homophobia Katastrophe takes on in “Written In Flames,” this San Francisco rapper has mad skills and attitude to spare. Katastrophe isn’t lacking in the political department, either, and it’s clear he loves being dangerous to the status quo. On “Something Different” he raps about being trans and the inclusiveness of the LGB community. In “I’m Sucha” Katastrophe scolds Bush and corporate America. Sex never seems far from Katastrophe’s mind, however, and the CD has its share of macho posturing. “Just because I’m five foot three doesn’t mean your girlfriend won’t do me, baby,” he raps on the sexy and teasing “Your Girlfriend.” “Girl get in this kiddie pool with me I’ll do to you like Diddy did for J-Lo,” he demands on “Let You Know.” Though Katastrophe has lots to say, the 16 tracks on “Let’s F—” are a lot to bite off at once. Listen and learn at http://katastropherap.com.
They Call Me Mr. Free Scott Free (Leather Western Records)
Scott Free, Chicago’s queer-rock/rapper, is back with “They Call Me Mr. Free,” his first solo record in five years. Free has a lot to say and he’s not one to shy away from controversy. The subject matter on “Mr. Free” ranges from golden showers (“Piss On Me”) to revised Beatles history (“John Loved Paul”) to politics (the anti-war anthem “Never Again and Again”) to wanting gayer Pride fest entertainment (“Disco Divas”). He takes on anti-gay violence in the Eminem-aping “Another Day of Cruelty” and the political landscape in “Battle Hymn of the Intolerant” where he sings, “Gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry and ladies shouldn’t be allowed to vote.” Some songs seem aimed more at inflaming than entertaining, like “Mouthful,” in which Free recites revered political and religious texts with his mouth full of man. While his lyrics can be a bit thick, Free is most commendable in his unabashed celebration of queerness. Though 18 tracks prove a little much to wade through, Free keeps things interesting stylistically. The ballad “Who Do I Thank?,” a tribute to his partner, evokes Barry Manilow. In a good way. “Zombies” has hints of Joe Jackson. Listen for yourself at http://www.scottfree.net.
Rollercoaster Jim Verraros (Koch Records)
If Britney Spears was a gay man she would be Jim Verraros, an American Idol top ten finalist who came out with a bang in 2003. “Rollercoaster” is pure pop fun with a stepped up gay sensibility. Songs, like “Forbidden Love,” deal frankly with sex, and Verraros isn’t afraid to turn up the man-on-man heat. Coupled with self-acceptance anthems like the radio-friendly “Outside,” “Rollercoaster” is the perfect Pride album. Listen at http://www.jimverraros.com.
Life’s A Ball Mara Levi (Fancy Records)
Look for pop-folkster Mari Levi to become a lesbian favorite at womyn’s music festivals nationwide. Her record cover alone could do the trick: alternating photos of her with a guitar and softball equipment. Though her vocal range is at times limited, her lyrics are smart and her arrangements are complex in a way that makes her music more interesting, not less accessible. “I’ve Arrived” is an album highlight. Listen at http://www.marilevi.com.
Little Star Girlyman (Daemon)
Tighter and more focused than their debut, “Little Star,” the second record for New York’s folk-trio Girlyman, is a must for fans of the Indigo Girls and Jackson Browne. With soaring harmonies and rootsy instrumentation, Girlyman crafts solid songs about love and war. Standouts include “I Wonder Where You’ve Gone,” which sounds like a Dolly Parton cover, the gender twisting “Young James Dean,” and the anti-war lullaby “Soldiers.”
Figures Keyth Lawrence and the Purple Circle (I Said Records)
Keyth Lawrence’s “Figures” is a piano-driven pop rock concept album with a prog bent. Think Ben Folds sans frat boy humor crossed with Rufus Wainwright at his most grandiose and a touch of Tori Amos – all channeled through a voice that sounds like a more palatable Geddy Lee of Rush mixed with Elton John. “Figure” unfolds like a novel, each song a new page in a story that’s hard to put down. Listen at http://www.keythlawrence.com.
Fine Upstanding Citizen Maia Sharp (Koch Records)
Even if you haven’t heard of Maia Sharp, you’ve heard her songs sung by the likes of Cher and Bonnie Rait. She wrote the title song for The Dixie Chicks’ album “Home” and includes her own version here. Sharp’s songwriting skills and musicianship are, well, sharp, but it is her limited voice that makes her better known as a writer than a singer. An acquired taste, it only becomes an issue on the title track, which even a brief Jill Sobule cameo can’t save.
Ready Allison Tartalia (Make Haste Records)
New Yorker Allison Tartalia’s jazzy arrangements, sultry voice, and occasionally world-music inspired instrumentation help her transcend the traditional womyn’s music genre yet still appeal to that audience. Fans of confessional lyrics will love “Dorothy’s Reply” with lines like, “I hate to break it to you babe, no one gives a f— about the Wizard in the end.” But her voice’s expressive range is limited and the words are sometimes overwrought. Tartalia is “Ready” almost.
A Totally New Sensation Josh Zuckerman (PLH Records)
Out Music Award nominee Josh Zuckerman’s CD isn’t really a “totally new sensation.” Though he breaks no musical or lyrical ground, his straight-forward rock is positive and uplifting and well-produced. His forte is the “I bet that’s really amazing live” song and I’ll bet “Totally New Sensation” doesn’t do his live show justice. Album highlights include the title song and the rocker “Karma.” Listen for yourself at http://www.joshzuckerman.com.