Annual Queer Music Awards

Outmusic award recipients continue trend of being out and successful

This year’s Outmusic Awards Ceremony recognized an outstanding group of gay, lesbian and transgender musicians. For the first time, the expanded four-day event was held outside New York at the Chicago Cultural Center earlier this summer.

The culminating awards ceremony, co-hosted by Broadway and recording star Lea DeLaria and Chicago’s punk rocker Jinx Titanic, honored guitar legend June Millington, The Village People’s cowboy, Randy Jones, Connecticut radio producer/ host Pamela Smith and longtime queer rocker Tim Cain. The quality and depth of offerings underscored the importance of out artists to the dynamism of the entertainment industry.

Here’s my run-down on this year’s winners.

OUTSTANDING NEW RECORDING—

CHORUS OR CHOIR

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

“Closer than Ever: The 25th Anniversary Concert”

With their closest competition Philadelphia’s daring feminist women’s vocal ensemble SheWho, who combine challenging a cappella arrangements with political savvy, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus swept the field. The recording’s selections, drawn from the chorus’ first 25 years, are as impressive for their range as their beauty. The disc begins with the Mendelssohn psalm the chorus sang at its unexpected début appearance on the steps of San Francisco City Hall the night gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. Paying tribute to the 242 chorus members lost to AIDS, selections feature guest appearances by “Tales of the City” author Armistead Maupin, the fabulous Sharon McNight and gay-rights trailblazer Mark Leno, a Californai assemblyman. The exuberance, musicality and diverse repertoire of the SFGMC singers serve as a model for queer choruses worldwide.

OUTSTANDING NEW RECORDING–

INSTRUMENTAL

Jennifer Higdon

“City Scape & Concerto for Orchestra”

For the first time, the OutMusic awards honor a classical composer with major label pedigree. Jennifer Higdon, 42, has been out since meeting her partner Cheryl in their high school marching band. The accessible beauty and vitality of the Philadelphia transplant’s numerous finely crafted works earn her over 100 performances a year. Higdon’s “City Scape” tribute to Atlanta, performed by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is irresistible, its color, range, and visceral impact thrillingly conveyed in Telarc’s optional state-of-the-art SACD surround- sound. The five movement “Concerto for Orchestra”—aping Béla Bartok’s similarly titled masterpiece—may prove a bit challenging, but careful listening provides a portal to the wealth of glorious new music available to those willing to venture beyond pat pop formulas.

Rocco Kayiatos (Katastrophe)

“Let’s Fuck, Then Talk About my Problems”

Utilizing an impressive assortment of multi-tracking techniques, San Francisco emcee and hip-hop artist Katastrophe thrusts his social awareness, self-preoccupation, macho posing and take-no-prisoners defiance in your face. This transgendered man deceives himself by not addressing the Bush administration, societal norms, cultural repression and the challenges facing our youth. Although one can only hope that he talks about HIV before having sex, and that he’s able to speak slow enough to enable you to understand every word (not the case with this indie disc that lacks printed lyrics), the breadth of Katastrophe’s poetry and back-up will seduce many other than hip-hop aficionados.

OUTSTANDING NEW RECORDING– BAND

The Bobbleheads

“Automatic Fun”

San Francisco’s Bobbleheads offer a frequently upbeat mix with a retro rock n’ roll sound. “37 Bus,” the opening song on their indie effort—afflicted with a one-dimensional, bright and brittle sound—includes the lines “Everyone is standing still, except for me I’m dancing… I can walk around in the sunlight, everybody knows. That you’re mine…” With numerous gay references, the Bobbleheads’ yeah yeah yeah, la la la songs about life and love do acknowledge some dark moments, but concern themselves far more with smiles.

Kitty Rose

“Kitty Rose! Greatest Hits”

From her opening “Yeah Haw!” exclaimed for all its worth, Kitty Rose lets you know that she can hold her own with the best. The California Cowgirl—Katharine Chase—writes most of her songs, sings fabulously and plays a mean acoustic guitar. Some tracks, recorded live with full band convey all the exuberance of artist and audience in full rapport. I don’t know what’s more impressive, Kitty’s ability to transition from an upbeat celebrant to a touching, softer voiced balladeer, or the unstoppable conviction that has motivated a 20-year career.

Zrazy

“Dream On”

Celtic jazz-duo Zrazy is wonderful. Maria Walsh’s (vocals, flute, percussion) slightly throaty, hushed delivery is as seductive as Carole Nelson’s (alto & soprano saxophone, piano & tin whistle) classy songs and whispered winds. Based in Ireland, Zrazy sings of love, life and nature with an understated veracity that distinguishes first-class musicians from the rest of the pack. Winners of Irish, Billboard, GLAMA and Gold Disc awards (sometimes for music very different from jazz), Zrazy deserves to rise to the top.

OUTSTANDING NEW RECORDING – FEMALE

Adrianne

“10,000 Stories”

Boy is this female songwriter/rocker/balladeer good! Winner of a page-full of awards including the USA Songwriting Competition, stage sharer with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Jeff Buckley and many other notables, her song “Comets” (on this disc) graces the feature film “Eulogy” starring Ray Romano, Debra Winger, and Hank Azaria. Adrianne’s great voice, naked honesty, and palpable yearning make listening and catching her on tour essential.

Scott Free

“They Call Me Mr. Free”

Displaying anger and defiance, arresting Chicago musician/activist Scott Free pulls no punches. In his winning OutSong, “Another Day of the Cruelty,” he utters a rallying cry for oppressed gay youth, urging them to sue the pants off oppressive administrators and seek alternatives. In the biting “Disco Divas,” he trashes artists whose mindless aping of straights leaves us partying away as second-class citizens. “Ronald Reagan’s Funeral” recounts the former president’s silence about AIDS. Rather than rapping in quasi-coherent formulaic fashion, Free delivers his own raw style of no- holds-barred, riveting musical activism.

Rachel Sage

“Ballads and Burlesques”

Beyond her little-girl persona and campy outfits, Rachel Sage is an intelligent songwriter as seen in “Sacrifice,” about a young man who stands up to his oppressive father. With lyrics, vocals, and pianism that speak with clear, soft-edged passion, the Stanford University drama graduate and childhood ballerina takes on life, love, and suffering with a boundary crossing, worldly perspective that commands the highest respect.

OUTSTANDING NEW RECORDING– DEBUT MALE

Dylan Rice

“Wandering Eyes”

Chicago rocker Dylan Rice proclaims he’s not the drama queen he used to be, but I am unconvinced. Rice’s youthful angst and autobiographical confessionals will certainly appeal to rock lovers drawn to the driving guitar style and slightly tortured vocals that distinguish his impressive début disc.

OUTSTANDING NEW

RECORDING – MALE

Ari Gold

“Space Under Sun”

Ari Gold isn’t just out about being gay. A funk/soul artist of the first order, he’s also delighted to display his shiny, smooth body and Jewish “Chai” medallion in every conceivable pose. The songs, mostly his own, are fabulous, the recording quality and spacey ambiance of big-label quality. Ari’s enhanced CD provides online lyrics—far less accessible than in print—and an enticing video that shows him lolling on the beach, flirting with his audience, and rubbing up against everything save a rubber ducky. This disc is more than fun—it’s great.

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