June is national LGBT Pride Month, making it a great time to get up-to-date on some of your favorite LGBT musicians. From Georgia’s own Michael Stipe to legends like k.d. lang and newer voices like Brandi Carlile, there are plenty of recent releases.
When Michael Stipe of Georgia’s own R.E.M. came out, he joined the ranks of other luminaries such as Husker Du’s Bob Mould and Grant Hart and American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel as gay men fronting rock bands. And guess what? It didn’t have any effect R.E.M.’s popularity or creativity.
Fans are looking forward to the 25th anniversary edition of the band’s “Life’s Rich Pageant” disc, featuring classics such as “Fall On Me” and a cover of “Superman,” set for release July 12. The blast from the past comes on the heels of “Collapse Into Now” (Warner Brothers), the album the band released in March.
After the energetic and engaging return of “Accelerate,” “Collapse Into Now” isn’t as lifeless as “Around The Sun” or “Up,” but it’s a long way from “Automatic For The People.”
Darkly rocking opener “Discoverer” has a vaguely familiar ring and “All The Best” maintains the mood. Then the band shifts into acoustic gear for “Überlin” and “Oh My Heart.”
Since we already know that R.E.M. is as comfortable rocking out as they are mellowing out (see “Every Day Is Yours To Win”), the disappointment comes in not learning anything else. There is no new ground being broken.
However, what sets the album apart from previous R.E.M. releases is the array of guest artists. Out Hidden Cameras front man Joel Gibb joins Eddie Vedder on “It Happened Today.” That’s queer diva Peaches on “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” and the iconic Patti Smith can be heard on “Discoverer” and the mostly spoken word track “Blue” (which reprises “Discoverer”).
Like Lance Bass of boy band *NSYNC, Jonathan Knight of New Kids on The Block also came out as gay. Now teamed up with Backstreet Boys, the New Kids, now known as NKOTB, are touring as a boys-to-men co-headlining musical group.
The album “NKOTBSB” (Columbia/Jive/Legacy) makes the merger complete, with five NKOTB hits (“Step By Step,” “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Please Don’t Go Girl,” “Hangin’ Tough” and “I’ll Be Loving You”) alternating with an equal number of those by BSB (“I Want It That Way,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” “As Long As You Love Me,” “Larger Than Life” and “Quit Playing Games”).
The most remarkable thing is the way a few of the older NKOTB tracks hold up better than those more recent ones by BSB. Further cementing the partnership are new NKOTBSB collaborations “All In My Head” and “Don’t Turn Out the Lights.”
Exes and ohs
Credited to k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, the joyous “Sing It Loud” (Nonesuch) finds the out diva fronting her first official band since the late Reclines. As a musical unit, they sound spectacular, providing the marvelous material with a solid backbone. There’s a contemporary vintage vibe to the brilliant and sexy opener “I Confess,” in which lang offers to “be your daddy,” that would make Amy Winehouse drool (more than she already does).
The modern retro style continues on “A Sleep With No Dreaming” and “The Water’s Edge.” Exceptional tunes such as electrically charged “Sugar Buzz” and the striking title cut, as well as psychedelic twang of “Habit of Mind” and “Sorrow Nevermore,” are notable for the way lang effortlessly ventures in new directions with the most delightful results.
And as an interpreter of other people’s songs, something for which lang has gained an incomparable reputation, she once again proves herself to be at the height of her skills with her heavenly reading of Talking Heads’ “Heaven.”
Leisha Hailey (Alice from “The L Word”) and k.d. lang were a couple when Leisha was in the duo the Murmurs (“You Suck,” “I’m A Mess”). In fact, lang co-produced the Murmurs’ second album “Pristine Smut.” Hailey must like being in a duo because her latest musical configuration, the electronic Uh Huh Her, consists of Hailey and Camila Grey.
While we wait patiently for “Nocturnes,” Uh Huh Her’s new full-length release, we have the six-song EP “Black and Blue” (Plaid) to hold us over. Highlights such as the title track, “Philosophy,” “Fascination” and “No Sacrifice” hold promise for what “Nocturnes” holds in store.
Wailers and warblers
Leave it to the amazing Brandi Carlile to record a live album as unique as “Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony” (Columbia). Bracketed by Elton John (“Sixty Years On”) and Leonard Cohen (“Hallelujah”) covers, and featuring a reading of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence,” the concert recording features belter Carlile performing her country-rock tunes backed by her band and a symphony orchestra to great effect.
Signature songs such as “Looking Out,” “Before It Breaks,” “I Will,” “Dreams” and “The Story” actually gain vigor and emotional impact in this setting. Even if you are not a fan of live albums, this is a must. You won’t regret it.
As if the TV show “Glee” wasn’t already gay enough for you (or too gay, according to the piece of dreck Glenn Beck), “Glee: the Music presents The Warblers” (Columbia) is an all-male (!) affair, featuring lovebirds Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss).
Actually, it’s Criss who dominates, singing the lead on “Teenage Dream” (and making the Katy Perry song far-less cloying), “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Somewhere Only We Know” and daring to take on Streisand on “What Kind of Fool.” Openly gay Colfer solos on the Beatles “Blackbird” and duets with Criss on “Candles” and “Animal.”
Top photo: Recent releases from LGBT musicians include discs from k.d. lang (pictured) and Brandi Carlile, as well as R.E.M., led by Michael Stipe, and NKOTB, which features out member Jonathan Knight. (publicity photo)