By Christopher Treacy
On a week when we’re featuring a torch song covered by Rufus Wainwright, a pioneering gay troubadour if there ever was one, alongside infectious new music from drag-celeb Trixie Mattel and the latest single from indie-darling Phoebe Bridgers, it’s hard not to reflect on how far we’ve come in the last 20 years. The underground has been uprooted. The parameters on what qualifies as country, pop, jazz, and folk have never been fuzzier. And queer artists that are blending all of those genres are proudly wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Dig in!
Song of the Week: “Nora Jane” – Gina Venier
You might not have been able to see it coming seven years back when she grazed the Top 24 on “American Idol,” but Nashville-based Gina Venier’s new single manages to pack an anvil of emotion into barely 3 minutes. A coming out story with a hopeful ending, it navigates the anxiety of introducing a same-sex significant other to her family while also expressing the incredible relief of a better outcome than she’d imagined. Through a carefully measured vocal and fairly sparse arrangement, Venier gets to the heart of the matter quickly, singing, “What’s my dad gonna do when I bring you home/What’s my mom gonna say when I tell her you’re the one I love, tell her you’re the one I want…” And yet, at no point in the song does she contemplate not going through with it, though she acknowledges how she’s waited until this point, until she was sure—until she’d met someone important enough.
Lyrically, Venier is out on a limb, but her timing couldn’t be better. “Nora Jane” may not get a ton of airplay in the Bible Belt, but it has the earmarks of a potential hit, and Venier has recently been signed to Warner Chappell and Red Light Management in their new joint venture, Red Door Music Group. It’ll be interesting to see what she serves up on her debut for them, but in the meanwhile, we’ve got this brave little tune right here.
[Check this space tomorrow for a short Q&A with singer-songwriter Gina Venier!)
Autumn Nicholas – “Not Gonna Do This Anymore”
Nicholas uses her disarming, fluttering warble to great effect with this urgent new track, building from a simple acoustic beginning to an atmospheric wall of sound, crashing drums and all. The production may be a nod to the 90s folk-pop styling of John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash) and Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell), but the message is very much of our time. “When we initially wrote it, Lauren Michael Sellers and I, the song was meant to express that no one has to linger in a relationship that isn’t meeting or valuing your own individual worth,” Nicholas explained. “As events in the world happened, the song, for me, soon took a pointed turn, as an opportunity to speak up for the women in Texas, and address head on the truth that a woman’s right over her own body is not something anyone has a right to take away.”
Trixie Mattel – “C’mon Loretta”
Try not getting swept up in the undertow of Trixie’s backhanded tribute to Loretta Lynn. A quick-but-irresistible pop breeze, she affectionately calls the 90-year-old songstress out for sticking with a violent drunk while simultaneously celebrating her stick-to-itiveness. The tune features a sing-along chorus that simply won’t leave you alone: “You took the dizzy road to love, all in, for worse or for better/Here we go again, come on Loretta/Singing songs ‘bout running the show when your heart could never let him go.” Of course, the accompanying video clip turns it all into a vintage tennis match that’s got nothing to do with Loretta Lynn, but it’s amusing all the same.
Phoebe Bridgers – “Sidelines”
As Phoebe Bridgers sets out on a massive tour that’ll keep her busy through the end of the summer, she’s released this fresh track that Hulu is using for the new serialized adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, Conversations With Friends. It’s a slow burner that gives way to a subtle, infectious groove in chorus, carrying the song through the rest of its paces as she depicts an emotional awakening via new love. In true Bridgers tradition, “Sidelines” occupies the grey area between melancholy and hopefulness, between a ballad and something a bit edgier.
Gray Ellis – “That Song”
With just voice and guitar, 22 year old trans musician Gray Ellis conveys unusual degrees of intimacy and realness here. Maybe grab your tissues first. ‘Nuff said.
Rufus Wainwright – “The Man That Got Away”
Wainwright’s latest is a new take on his Judy Garland show, initially released in 2007 and recorded from a string of Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall shows the previous June. This, the latest clip from the forthcoming Rufus Does Judy at Capitol Studios, which arrives this coming June, is a masterful take on a torchy Arlen/Gershwin classic that Garland sang in the original 1954 version of A Star is Born. Her version was nominated for an Academy Award the following year. Wainwright’s pipes may be an acquired taste, but he’s unafraid to reach, vocally speaking, and his moxie is impressive. Gal-pal and Judy biopic star Renee Zellweger makes a non-singing cameo in the clip.
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Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Buffalo, NY.