By Christopher Treacy & Dale Henry Geist
Brandy Clark – “Buried”
At this point Clark must be considered a leading light in queer country, having crafted a sterling career for herself over the past decade and a half, first as a hit songwriter (often with pioneering gay songwriter Shane McAnally; their output includes Kacey Musgrave’s 2013 anthem “Follow Your Arrow”), followed shortly by her own albums, which showcased songs about tough, resourceful working-class women. Clark’s been nominated for a slew of Grammys, ACM and CMA awards, and even one from GLAAD.
Now she’s gearing up to release what she describes as her most personal album yet, Brandy Clark, slated for May 19. In what must be the highest-profile lesbian country collab to date, Clark enlisted that other BC, Brandi Carlile, to produce. Clark says Carlile pushed her to “go there,” to bring out the deepest, most essential parts of herself and put them on record. “Buried” is the album’s first single, and it points up what an impeccable writer, singer, and yes, guitar player Clark is. When it’s whisper-soft like this one is, you can’t hide; every moment is imbued with a delicate anguish. Without question, Brandy Clark is now operating at a lofty level of artistry. Soak it in.
Tina & Her Pony – “Beautiful Mess”
By now, Asheville, NC’s Tina Collins has been at it for awhile – since 2009, to be precise. Tina & Her Pony used to be a duo, but Collins split from her musical/creative partner in 2020, making the new album, Marigolds, a solo venture. “This new album is a mirror for the death and rebirth that occurred in me personally and musically in the wake of that huge life event,” Collins told us. “The band is now centered solely around my songwriting and singing and I am so happy that Tina & Her Pony gets to live on and keep making music.”
In “Beautiful Mess,” you can hear a fully matured, O Brother-influenced, pre-WWII, languid country lament, delivered with precision and grace. We’ve all known a beautiful mess. And we all know what it feels like to fall for one: it feels like this.
The Faux Paws – “Sailing to Denver/Red Top”
I have no idea how one is supposed to sail to Denver, but I reckon you need a fiddle and a saxophone to start with, and a melodic, catchy jig. The Faux Paws will take you there, and then hand you a Red Top. Again, I have no idea what that is, but it’s another lively melody played on that inimitable combo of fiddle and sax. The band also boasts banjo, guitar, and “Quebecois foot percussion.” The FPs are a project of Vermont-based artist Andrew van Norstrand, who gave us a delightful interview back in 2021.
Haley E. Rydell – “Midwestern Daughter”
Haley E. Rydell takes aim at our heartstrings with this plaintive ode to forbidden love, and she scores a bullseye. It’s a story that’s still too common: when you’re living in a small town, coming out may not be worth the risk, and staying in, well, that’s a recipe for heartbreak. As the chorus goes, “A man’s gonna say whatever he chooses / And he’ll be just fine if he wins or he loses / But God forbid I write a love song for you / ‘Cause I’m a Midwestern daughter / And you are, too.”
Rydell has been playing in and around Minneapolis for years in various outfits, but has just released her debut album, also titled Midwestern Daughter. Beautifully written, sung with pathos, and lushly, but not cloyingly, produced, “Midwestern Daughter” is worthy of our attention.
Wesley King – “City Full of Cranes”
King is aiming straight at the radio here. Just-so keyboard patches, a snap track, and impeccable harmony vocals are just a few of the production touches that give this track the familiar-but-different sound that program directors love. The theme is well-worn: a young musician in the big city, despairing of his chances; but the lyric is incisive, the melody lilting, and the delivery heartfelt. Penned with Nashville in mind, he tells us, “This was initially going to be the title of the album as well. I am really proud of this song and proud of the 90s spin [producer] Seth [Ferguson] gave it to save me from my death by ballads mentality. Written about how hard it is to build a dream in this town, who’s skyline is more cranes than buildings.”
Iris Marlowe – “Jesus Was a Communist”
Politico-religious horror-folk for the thinking queer: Marlowe’s latest is as provocative as they come. Stunningly prolific (by her own account, she’s written over 2,000 songs!) Chicago’s Iris Marlowe is gifted with a soulful voice, a deft pen, and an acute sense of the outlandish, all on display in this spiky little gem.
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’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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