It looks like 2019 is going to be a good year for out R&B artist Rahsaan Patterson. His song “Tears Ago” is one of the few highlights on Dionne Warwick’s new studio album, her first in five years. Patterson himself steps into the spotlight with his sixth studio album Heroes & Gods (Shanachie), a set of songs that strikes a balance between his smooth and funky sides. On rhythmic numbers such as “Soldier,” “Silly, Love Fool,” “Rock And Roll,” “Catch Me When I Fall,” and the title cut, Patterson invites us to join him on a hot and sweaty dance floor. He also knows how to provide the perfect soundtrack for chilling on songs such as “Sent From Heaven,” “Break It Down,” “Wonderful Star,” “I Try,” and “Oxford Blues.”
At this point in time, hot, out former Judybats frontman Jeff Heiskell has been a solo act longer than he was in the band he formed. In fact, he’s released more albums under the Heiskell moniker than the Judybats did when they were signed to a major label. In addition to being somewhat edgier than what he did with the Judybats, Heiskell’s solo work is definitely gayer. This has never been truer than on the “Alexanderbear69” from his new album Songs in the Key of H (Heiskellmusic.com). The Knoxville-based artist pays tribute to the burg in the wonderful “Knoxville Town” (featuring a rap by Matt Honkonen) and is nothing less than radiant on “Neon Yellow.” Heiskell leads us down an Americana path before abruptly shifting gears on the homewrecker anthem “For a Day.” Also of note is the queer drinking song “I’m Still Around,” the gorgeous “Trashcan Romeo,” the rocking “Dirty Unicorn,” and the raunchy retro “On the Down Low.”
Reflective of “personal and political change,” The Medicine Show (Concord / MLE Music) by Melissa Etheridge is subtitled “an unrivaled true story of redemption and a 1974 Fender.” Etheridge rocks harder than she has in years on the titular opener and continues in that vein on “Shaking,” “Love Will Live” and “Wild and Lonely.” It’s not all blistering rock and roll as you can hear on “Woman Like You,” “Faded By Design,” the exquisite “I Know You,” the power pop ballad “The Last Hello,” as well as the lightly funky “This Human Chain.”
French Vanilla effortlessly recaptures the queer spirit of the 1980s for 21st century ears on its second album How Am I Not Myself? (Danger Collective). Making the best use of a saxophone and female lead vocals since Romeo Void, French Vanilla has delivered a timeless record. It’s the kind of disc that’s at home at an 1980s downtown New York loft party as it is at a queer dance party in a Miami Arts District gallery/warehouse planned for next weekend. It’s also intelligent pop that asks you to think about its messages while you work your body to songs such as “Lost Power,” “Suddenly,” “All The Time,” “Real or Not,” “Bromosapien,” and “Sensitive (Not Too Sensitive).”
Occupying a similar space and vibe as French Vanilla, right down to the saxophone on album opener “Flash,” Gauche gives listeners a fine how-do-you-do with its debut album A People’s History of Gauche (Merge). Sharing a similar socio-political bent with French Vanilla, as well as the desire to get you up and dancing, Gauche is a welcome addition to the club, particularly on songs such as “Surveilled Society,” “Pay Day,” “Running,” “Boom Hazard,” and “Rent (V).”
The Harmaleighs, a queer and experimental duo (creative and personal partners Haley Grant and Kaylee Jesperson), have returned with their latest album She Won’t Make Sense (Nettwerk). Strongly recommended for fans of Tegan and Sara, The Murmurs, and The Ditty Bops, The Harmaleighs have broadened their horizons without completely abandoning the “indie Americana” sound that first captured our attention. You can hear this on songs such as “Anthem for the Weak,” “I Don’t Know Myself,” and “Mannequin.” Especially exciting are the new directions in which they take listeners, particularly on “Sorry, I’m Busy,” “When I Was a Kid,” “Don’t Panic,” “Tidy Up,” and “Dim The Light.”
Soak and Marika Hackman, two queer women who made indelible impressions with their previous albums, deliver on the promise and then some. Arriving four years after her mostly acoustic 2015 debut record, Soak (aka Bridie Monds-Watson) makes a great leap forward with her second full-length release Grim-Town (Rough Trade). Something else altogether, Soak kicks off the album with the suitably bleak spoken “All Aboard” intro before stepping forward with the powerful “Get Set Go Kid.” Boasting fuller and often exhilarating instrumentation and arrangements, songs such as “Knock Me Off My Feet,” “Everybody Loves You,” “Maybe,” “I Was Blue, Technicolor Too,” and “Life Trainee” all combine to make Grim-Town one of the best albums of the year.
Hackman’s 2017 debut album I’m Not Your Man made an impression on listeners, beginning with the songs “Boyfriend” and “My Lover Cindy.” She picks up where she left off with Any Human Friend (Sub Pop). Like Soak, Hackman continues to grow as a songwriter and performer, something that comes through on the songs “The One,” “I’m Not Where You Are,” “Blow,” “Come Undone,” and “Conventional Ride.”
If Tom Waits had a queer kid brother, he’d probably sound something like The Mutts’ Mike Maimone. In advance of the band’s new full-length album, due out in autumn 2019, we have Now That’s What I Call Mutts (Muttsmusic.com). The 16-song compilation includes the new song “Your Love” and fan favorites such as the amazing “Everyone = Everyone,” as well as “If It’s Hot, It’ll Sell,” “Pray Like a Vigilante,” “Bury You,” “Prizefighter,” and “Trust.”
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.