Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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CQ Roundup, June 1

By Christopher Treacy

Joni Mitchell wrote thatSongs are like tattoos,” and within the context of “Blue,” perhaps they are. Lately, I tend to think of them more like cartoons. Not with regard to humor. Not “Family Guy.” But more in the sense that, removed from the constraints of a reality-based, linear timeline, a lot can happen in 3-4 minutes. A LOT. And that’s amazing to me. Just like in the space of 23-ish minutes, a ton can happen in a cartoon. Even in the more experimental, 11-minute Adult Swim cartoons, a lot gets accomplished. And so, to me, songs are mini-universes where the pace of time can shift without explanation or apology. We can be several places at once. We can experience things from multiple vantage points. We can look at life and love (and clouds, I suppose) from “Both Sides, Now.” That song was written when Joni Mitchell was in her early 20s, yet it conveys a wisdom well beyond that age. This week, several of our Roundup choices convey learned lessons from young people that some of us who’re considerably older are still grappling with. Perhaps in the process of distilling something down to a 4-minute nub, wisdom makes itself apparent. I wouldn’t know, I’m not a songwriter. Regardless, I think we can all agree: there’s some magic in a well written song.


Song of The Week: Brandon Stansell – “Wild Ride”

Stansell simultaneously looks back and forward on this new track, a warm, pop breeze that comes complete with a sax solo. If the video image looks a bit 80s, that’s because it is. Perhaps there’s implied irony in the fact that it harks back to a time when an artist like Stansell would not have an easy time being out and proud and relaxed about it. “Wild Ride” does indeed sound pretty relaxed. And confident. But it also delves into the challenging path taken to get to this point (hence the ‘wild ride). Along the way, Stansell sings about gaining important knowledge and wisdom: “I know enough to know it’ll all be worth it.” Don’t most of us daydream about having that kind of self assurance? We got to ask him about it. Watch this space for a Q&A with Brandon Stansell later this week and in the meanwhile, here’s “Wild Ride.”

Paisley Fields – “Jesus Loving American Guy (Limp Wrist)”

One could argue that the folks Fields is coming for in this new track are easy prey. Frankly, we don’t care. Despite coming on so sweetly with some fiddle and piano interplay, this tune’s got teeth. As a touring member of the newly reformed, pioneering queer country outfit, Lavender Country, Fields is surrounded by history. He knows how far we’ve come. But he also knows we’ve got a ways to go. His new album, Limp Wrist, is due on the Don Giovanni label in August and is apparently chock-full of nuggets like this one, recalling the difficult intersection of rural queerness and religion. It’s where he spent much of his youth before relocating to Manhattan. Here, he calls out hypocrites hither and yon while making sure to mention the boys who pushed him up against the wall in grade school. Fields was the official church pianist in his parish throughout his teens. Now he plays piano in Lavender Country. Sounds like he switched churches and really found religion.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Jacklen Ro – “Time Bomb”

It’s tough when you realize you’re terrible for each other, but you keep going back. This initially hushed little ditty from Jacklen Ro features some fantastic harmonizing. “What’s the worst that can happen? I’d rather know now and let the red flag show/I’d rather know now if I should let you go,” they sing with a strident air of defiance. And yet, they keep going back, thus creating the time bomb. It’s not unlike addiction; sometimes you know you’re headed down a bad path, but you give in and descend anyhow. Chalk it up to experience. Kudos to Jacklen Ro for framing this weird emotional space with such spot-on, plain-faced language. We’re there with y’all, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Chastity Brown – “Like the Sun”

The second single en route to Brown’s new Sing To The Walls album is more of a mid-tempo ballad than the first, but it’s not without groove. What initially seems like a lullaby transforms into a churchy sendup that likens her lover to the rising sun. Using a Joni-esque, hammering piano chord to create an unlikely hook, Brown spends the chorus at the tippy-top of her voice, recalling Prince’s falsetto. Just as was the case with ‘Wonderment,” her choices are both surprising and thrilling.

The Belle Curves – “Check Engine Light”

Delaney Hafener’s subtle singing makes for an unusual contrast with the no-bullshit, rocking blues of this track, which seems like it could be taken from a Bonnie Raitt album. But Hafener has her own stories to tell and this one is true, inspired by a cramped 2019 cross-country drive in an ’04 Pontiac Vibe and, later, a trip to Joshua Tree on a crowded holiday weekend. Cramped and crowded makes for sly humor and, when married with her earnest curiosity about what it means to be American, you might find yourself wanting to hear more. The new album, Watershed, drops 6/24.

Ty Herndon – “Till You Get There”

Big production and big hooks have long been part of the country music scheme, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Herndon’s latest, the first single from his forthcoming JACOB album, due 7/15, is so smooth and infectious, it’s over way too quickly. Making the best of blended rock and country-pop trends, Herndon’s first single in quite a while takes the bull by the horns and wrestles it right to the ground. It attests to his tenacity; Herndon’s been all through it, and he didn’t get to do any of privately, either. Here’s to an impressive resurrection. Go on, hit that play button again!

Mark Robert Cash – “Feelings Lie”

A Maryland to Nashville transplant, Cash articulates the old trope about how “feelings aren’t facts” within the context of modern queer love, and it works mighty well. Not enough songs cover this murky emotional territory from a “just the facts, Ma’am” standpoint, but it’s fairly universal: our minds glorify and embellish the things we want to remember in favor of the cold hard truth, which might be that you’re better off without them. Feelings lie, indeed.

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 Waitsfield, VT.

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