Dig These Discs :: Bonnie Raitt, Songs Of Gay Liberation, Rufus Wainwright, Patrick Watson, Jason Mraz
Legendary songstress Bonnie Raitt drops her 19th album, "Slipstream," to mass critical raves. Listening is easy this month, with harmonious new releases by Rufus Wainwright, Patrick Wilson, and Jason Mraz, plus a campy new set of gay liberation songs.
"Slipstream" (Bonnie Raitt)
In a recent on-air interview, pundit Stephen Colbert called Bonnie Raitt the most underrated slide guitarist of her time. Despite his penchant for comedy, this was no joke. Raitt’s new album, "Slipstream," her 19th and the first new one in seven years, is proof-positive that Raitt is still at the top of her game. The album includes covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Joe Henry, and Loudon Wainwright III. Her first track, "Used to Rule the World," kicks things off with a quick, soulful, "can I get a witness" track about growing old despite your cool cat days, with the lyrics, "now you’re mystified, standing with the rest of us/ who used to rule the world." Raitt may be older, but she still has dominion over us mere mortals. Her island-reggae style cover of Gerry Rafferty’s "Right Down the Line" hits the sweet spot. Dylan’s "Million Miles" is chock full of heartbreak over lost love, and its cadence of "rock me pretty baby, rock me all at once/ rock for a little while and rock me for a coupla months", is reminiscent of her hit, "Finest Lovin’ Man." Wainwright and Joseph Lee Henry’s "You Can’t Fail Me Now" is a slow, acoustic sleeper that showcases Raitt’s soulful voice. Her fast-moving "Down to You" smacks of the best of her rock days, and Gordon Kennedy’s "Take My Love With You" unfolds slowly, with sweet lyrics like, "I’ll be your talisman, I’ll be your lucky charm/ put it in your pocket, put it in your heart." "Marriage Made in Hollywood" is a character portrait of schadenfreude, and our love of other’s tragedies. Raitt also covers three Al Anderson tunes. The slide guitar work on "Not Cause I Wanted To" is sublime, complimenting the lonesome feel of the tune. Ditto for "Ain’t Gonna Let You Go." Raitt rocks the house down in this tune about finding the perfect man, singing, "you’re not the man I was looking for/ you’re every bit of him and a whole lot more." And "Split Decision" is a knock-down, drag out rock tune that draws parallels between a prize fight and a rocky love affair, with Raitt singing, "Getting along got harder and harder/ until we were nothing more than sparring partners." "Standing in the Doorway" is a slow song about the man who "left me standing in the doorway crying". Raitt closes the album out with Henry’s "God Only Knows," a sobering, piano-driven anthem. As Raitt notes, "I’m so inspired and so proud to continue these traditions, whether it’s reggae or soul or blues. I’m in the slipstream of those who came before me, and I’m leaving one for those behind me."
"Strong Love: Songs of Gay Liberation 1972-1981" (Assorted)
This collection of 15 songs of gay liberation is both campy and earnest at the same time. The album kicks off with "A Gay Song" by Everyone Involved, a hippie-influenced clunker with the lyrics, "There’s a little bit of gay in everyone today/ so why not let it out, that’s what we say/ gay is natural, gay is good, gay is wonderful, gay people should all come together and fight for our rights." The clap-tracks and exclamations of "gay is good" really make this marching track a winner. Another anthem-type track is "Good To Be Gay," an upbeat, clap-driven song with the lyrics, "We all come together cause we’re happy to say, it’s a natural fact, it’s good to be gay." The International Gay Society’s "Stand Up for Your Rights" is an urban fight anthem miles away from the Bob Marley hit. Charlie Murphy’s "Gay Spirit" is a more serious acoustic ballad about being free, and rejoicing in the gay spirit leading us through these troubled times. Paul Wagner sings an earnest song about proudly embracing gay love in "The One." And Steven Grossman’s "Out" is a man’s humorous coming out story to his parents, singing to his mother, "I know it’s hard for you to take, and it’s nothing you would brag, when your first-born turns out to be a..." Smokey’s "Strong Love" has that grotty, electric guitar drag sound heard in early Doors hits, with lyrics like, "You need a man’s love to keep you warm/ you need a strong love because it’s out of sight." "Dreamboy" is a dreamy acoustic hit, with Robert Campbell’s deep voice crooning, "God damn the future because I love the past/ is that all, is that all, making love with my dreamboy in the hall." Chris Robinson’s "Big Strong Man in My Life" features a funny falsetto, and "Hot For a Hustler" is a campy, Broadway-style standard by Scrumbly & Martin about a shop clerk being led by a hustler through the bars, baths, and bushes. The album also has some kicking, disco-influenced tracks, like Blackberri’s "It’s Okay," about a long-lasting love between two men that is reminiscent of one of Joan Armatrading’s hits. And Buena Vista rocks the house down with "Hot Magazine," the tale of a trip to the local bookstore to cover "everything but the bedroom window with pictures of boys who beg and cry for me. Hot Magazine, so lovely, pop a staple or two and you have a pillow queen/ so lovely, spend a lot of my cash on jars of Vaseline." Mike Cohen’s "Evil & Lusty" is an acoustic, country-style tune about coming to terms with the dark side, singing out loud, "I’m gay and I’m proud." It is followed by the album’s best track, the country-strong acoustic crooner, "Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears," by Lavender Country. The hilarious lyrics include, "Your lies can’t deceive me I know that you’ll leave me cryin’ these cocksucking tears." The album wraps up with Conan Dunham’s acoustic "Tell Ol’ Anita," a giant middle finger to anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. Funny and dour, the album is a great historical chronicling of the songs of gay male musicians of the ’70s.
"Out of the Game" (Rufus Wainwright)
Honey-throated gay chanteuse Rufus Wainwright drops his seventh studio album, "Out of the Game," proving that he is very much in the game, and for the long haul. The uptempo opening chords of his title track hook the listener into this catchy pop song, punctuated by electric guitar. Wainwright, a consummate songwriter, presents a dozen memorable tracks, produced by Mark Ronson. Calling this "the most pop album I’ve ever made", Wainwright takes us through a collection of fresh, original tracks more reminiscent of his early work. "Jericho" is a song about a fool who improbably thinks his love will change. The song has the rise and fall cadence of hits like "Do I Disappoint You," with a dark chorus. "Rashida" lures you in with a strumming piano, very much in the vein of Elton John, who has called Wainwright "the greatest songwriter on the planet." "Barbara" has a late-’70s disco feel to it, finely profiling Wainwright’s deep, louche vocals to the effect of a lazy summer afternoon. "Perfect Man" shares this uptempo beat, as Wainwright searches "over and over" for that elusive Mr. Right. In "Welcome to the Ball," Wainwright stays the course, singing, "I will never be the one who tells you that I need you more/ nor will ever have to be the one who’s walking out the door/ when the hour’s struck you will receive a note addressed from me." The arrangement, aided by horns, is lush and wide. In the orchestral "Montauk," Wainwright invites a guest to visit this enclave for the liberal rich, singing, "One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad wearing a kimono/ and see your other dad pruning roses/ hope you won’t turn around and go." An electro-orchestral sound comes to the surface in the fast-moving "Bitter Tears"; "Respectable Drive" slows it down to Cowboy Junkies hop-along speed, with Wainwright’s sleepy vocals adding a tinge of regret, singing, "Baby I love you and I do not wanna lose you...so I put my cards on the table." "Sometimes You Need" is a strangely nonsense song, marked with stellar acoustic fingering about movie stars eyes and dog parks and finding a stranger to talk to. "Song of You" opens with instrumental waterfalls and the lament, "there are so many melodies, but only one of you". The album closes with another acoustic sleeper, "Candles," with Wainwright bemoaning, "I try to do all I can, but the churches have run out of candles." The song closes with a dirge on bagpipes, a classic tribute to those "Out of the Game." (Decca)
"Adventures in Your Own Backyard" (Patrick Watson)
Montreal singer/songwriter Patrick Wilson releases his third studio album, a cabaret pop classical music meld that has been compared to Rufus Wainwright and Andrew Bird, for whom Watson is now opening on tour. Watson has said that the album was an effort by him and his band to "make the kind of music we would want to listen to at home." The resultant collection of classically influenced songs without pretense fits the bill; "Adventures" is excellent background music, a step above the fray. "Lighthouse" is a whisper-thin sylph of a song. "Blackwind" features Watson’s high falsetto and rapid but mild percussives. "Step Out for a While" brings to mind gypsy bordello music, with its oom-pa-pa beat. "The Quiet Crowd" is one of the album’s best, with the lyrics, "Would you rather be more than the things that you say, just be the words that you sing to yourself in your head when nobody’s around/ or would you rather be a part of the crowd, or just a single sound waiting to be heard?" Watson serves up more of his soft vocals in "Into Giants," and "Morning Sheets" is a bedroom-eyes type song. "Words in the Fire" pairs Watson’s falsetto with this acoustic finger work, and "The Things You Do" relies on it for an otherworldly effect. "Strange Crooked Effect" gets the added benefit of a snare drum to keep the beat; the effect is of an early-’80s commercial pop song. Watson hums the intro to "Noisy Sunday," a quiet song that rises and falls. He keeps the pace in the title track, a song about exploring beyond your backyard. Watson closes the album with "Swimming Pools," another largely instrumental song. Overall, "Adventures" is a fine effort by this talented artist.
"Love is a Four Letter Word" (Jason Mraz)
Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jason Mraz had a stellar year in 2010, with his record-breaking hit, "I’m Yours" topping Billboard’s Hot #1 chart for 76 weeks. He spent nearly two years touring to promote the album, "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things." He returned to the studio to pick up where he left off, recording a collection of songs that explore love’s ups and downs. The dozen tracks on "Love" were produced by Joe Chiccarelli and an all-star line-up of musicians. From his jazz-influenced tracks to his acoustic riffs, the songs nicely showcase Mraz’s rich tenor voice. His first single, "I Won’t Give Up" is an acoustic track of lost love that debuted at number one on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart. A similar longing arises in "In Your Hands." "Everything is Sound" is a bouncy, radio-ready pop song, inspired by Mraz’s love of Kirtan, a call-and-response Sanskrit form of music. And horns are put to good use in the jazzy album opener, "Freedom Song," written by Luc Reynaud to raise money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. His extensive touring likely inspired Mraz to pen, "93 Million Miles," a song about always being able to come home, when home is wherever you hang your hat. "Living in the Moment" is a classic carpe diem song. In "The Woman I Love" Mraz sends his love out to his woman to bolster her through her darkest days, singing, "Sometimes the world can make you feel you’re not welcome anymore/ when you beat yourself up you let yourself get mad/ and in those times when you stop loving the woman I adore/ you can relax because babe, I’ve got your back." "I Won’t Give Up" is another soft acoustic track about staying the course, despite the weight of the world. Mraz’s music, though sometimes peppered with electronic flourishes, has a country twang to it. "Frank D. Fixer" is a country track about a handyman who can fix anything, an ode to the days of yore and one man’s wish to fix all of his woman’s problems. It wraps up with a rollicking harmonica solo. Mraz is a varied artist; his track "5/6" has a Bollywood sound to it. A slow snare drum leads into, "In Your Hands," in which Mraz croons to his lover to come back home, singing that "a double bed has never felt so empty; what’s missing in the world is you." In "The World As I See It," Mraz sings, "it’s not hard for me to love you." He teams up with Inara George for the closer, "Be Honest," a sweet tune with a Spanish guitar sound and the feel of a ’70s lounge act, the acoustic fingerwork and percussives coming through clearly. Mraz has said that he wrote the album to explore, "What one does in love to make it work, and what one does in love when it’s time to let go." In "Love Is a Four Letter Word," he meets his mark.