by Denver-Rose Harmon, Staff Writer
I understand all too well how a queer liberal can be turned off by the conservative facade of mainstream country music. Before I started writing for Country Queer, I was a devoted reader; its refreshingly inclusive perspective reignited my love of country, Americana, and folk.
So here are 12 songs by queer artists (or bands with a queer member) made within the last couple years, to send a welcoming message to other liberal country fans. (For more progressive country tunes, check out our original “12 Country Songs for the Queer Liberal” and “10 Queer Country Protest Songs“.)
“Loving Her,” Katie Pruitt
This is a delightfully sweet song that deals with internalized guilt from growing up queer in a conservative Christian culture. Opening with “If loving her’s a sin / I don’t want to go to Heaven” Pruitt declares over and over that her love for another woman has overcome this obstacle.
“Joy of Jesus,” Stephanie Lambring
It is undeniable, especially in light of recent footage of Capitol building insurrectionists praying together to thank God for helping them lay siege to the Senate chamber, that intolerant conservative ideals are often justified through Christianity.
Of course, religion is not inherently intolerant or conservative, but the queer liberal is remiss to not notice the hypocrisy. Lambring discusses conversion therapy and slut-shaming and pulls no punches as she opens with: “He called her a slut / Just because she was singing about one night love / So she looked him up / Said ‘Trump/Pence 2016, Conservative Christian.'”
“The Reckoning,” Front Country
Progressive folk-pop group Front Country penned a lovely ballad that leaves the listener inspired to keep moving forward without ignoring the challenges that society faces. The song has a swelling, atmospheric quality that crescendos to a bridge with a singing violin. The lyrics bring up the fact that we must acknowledge the systemic sickness within our country and within ourselves so we can put in the work to heal: “When the truth is thin / Gotta shout it out and make it ring again / Once we’re finally tired of running from the things we won’t admit / We’ll start again.”
“Nothing Left,” Luisa Lopez
While most every song on the album “45” belongs on this list, “Nothing Left” earned the spot because Lopez pulls no punches regarding police brutality. She invokes the name of Prince Carmen Jones, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in 2000 at the age of 25. Lopez’s bright and buttery vocals are backed by gospel background harmonies and the finessed sprinkling of “Amazing Grace” brings power to laments such as “There’s nothing left to say to you / And there’s nothing left to see / You know it always had been true / This killing by police.”
Gender Binary (Fuck You) [Acoustic!],” Ryan Cassata
In keeping with the theme of defiant trans musicians, Cassata has created a deliciously obstinate response to — you guessed it — the gender binary. It’s possible that I am just a sucker for curse words sang in a beautiful voice, but I fell in love with the “Fuck you”s in the chorus of this song on first listen.
The melody and lyrics revel in the feeling of flipping the bird to society’s standards and marching to the beat of one’s own drum. A whining fiddle and acoustic guitar add a light-heartedness to the very personal lyrics: “Sometimes I want a beard / But I won’t go on T / Because I like my pretty voice / It suits me just fine.”
“A Beautiful Noise,” Brandi Carlile and Alicia Keys
Songs created by celebrities to inspire activism often sound vapid and pandering. The every-vote-counts message of this song might feel the same if it came from another cishet white singer, but as a duet by a woman of color and a lesbian, it is sincerely inspirational. Made better by the fact that the composition of this song was a collaboration with six other women, Keys and Carlile implore others to stand with them and make change happen, as they sing: “I’m not living to die / Don’t stand in a wasteland / Look at me in the eye / Stop living a lie / And stand up next to me.”
“Passing Through,” Lavender Scared
Although more of an anarchist song than a leftist song, this track by trans punk band Lavender Scared really strikes a chord with me as a 20-something liberal dealing with exhaustion from going through college under a conservative administration.
This song is equal parts country and punk, the perfect genres to express discontent and a sticking-it-to-the-man theme. Despite the anger and defiance, this song is a romp that can lift the spirits of a disillusioned liberal on those days where they just feel like giving up on society.
“The Gender Line,” Cidny Bullens
Bullens has been active in the music industry since the 70s, before transitioning, as a female backup singer for Elton John, Rod Stewart and Grease. “The Gender Line” was featured in the documentary of the same title about Bullens’ experience as a trans man. This tune has a fitting stadium/southern rock feel and cinematic story-telling. The narrator seems to be having a calm conversation with someone, letting them know that he understands what it’s like to walk both sides of the gender line.
“New Kind of Outlaw,” D’orjay the Singing Shaman
This song announces D’orjay’s entrance into the country scene as a queer Black woman with staggering bravado and confidence. Among electric guitar riffs, pulsing low-tempo drums, and a twangy banjo she dares the country music scene to ignore her. She declares that she is “Reminding you all country music is Black,” something anti-BLM consumers of mainstream country radio don’t seem to understand.
“Slave Driver,” Our Native Daughters
This track comes from another album which, in its entirety, would be appropriate for this list. Where D’orjay reminded us that country is originally Black, Our Native Daughters used this album to show with a collection of banjo-heavy roots-based folk.
I was particularly taken with this Bob Marley cover as it combats the white-washed view of Marley as someone who only preached peace. The addition of a banjo — originally a Black instrument — to Marley’s prose about the aftermath of slavery and the ramifications of unequal education for the poor make this a very topical song.
“Tear It Down,” Amy Ray
Amy Ray targets pervasive southern conservative values in this piano-driven hymn. She calls out those who miss the good old days for ignoring that the history of the South is not just “dirt roads and simple ways” but steeped in slavery and its aftermath. In giving the order to “tear it down”, Ray is imploring Americans to stop trying to preserve old traditions and cultural attitudes that were created at the expense of people of color.
“Wish You Would’ve Been A Cowboy,” Adeem the Artist
Perhaps the most timely addition to this list, and the best finale for a modern queer liberal playlist, is Adeem the Artist’s song from their upcoming album Cast Iron Pansexual. (Full disclosure: Adeem is a CQ staffer.) As someone who also grew up knowing all the words to songs from Toby Keith and his peers without understanding the message, I relate to the sentiment behind every word of this song.
Being liberal in a conservative town led me to feel animosity toward country music as a whole for quite awhile. I’m happy to now have country singers like Adeem to restore my love of the genre by providing an antithesis to Keith’s “star-spangled anger” as they so eloquently put it.