There’s a lot to be said about the 25th anniversary 180-gram vinyl reissue of Bonnie Raitt’s multi-Grammy Award-winning 1989 album Nick of Time (Capitol), remastered from the original analog tapes. First, rest assured that it sounds as marvelous and timeless as the first time you heard it, on vinyl or CD (it was originally released in 1989, after all). Producer/musician Don Was (of Was Not Was fame) met the challenge of lifting the longtime singer, songwriter and blues diva out of shocking semi-obscurity and getting her the long overdue attention she had deserved. Sure, Raitt (the son of Broadway actor and singer John Raitt), had released nine albums on Warner Brothers, from 1971 to 1986, gaining a devoted following, skirting chart success and developing a devoted following in the heyday of FM radio, but superstardom eluded her.
The dance music world was dealt a tragic blow when legendary producer and songwriter Frankie Knuckles passed away in March 2014. An artist of epic proportions, openly gay Frankie Knuckles singlehandedly made Chicago’s house music genre a household word, if you will. Just how significant Knuckles’s contributions were was exemplified by his signing to a major label (Virgin) in the 1990s, bringing a formerly underground kind of music to the fore. Both of his albums for that label, 1991’s Beyond the Mix and 1995’s Welcome To the Real World have been reissued “straight from the crates on heavyweight vinyl” by Virgin/UMe. Beyond the Mix opens with the dated hip-hop/house hybrid “Godfather” which bellows 1991. Things improve on “Rain Falls” (which could have used a little more thunder) and the airy treat of Eric Kupper’s “The Whistle Song.” Side two is more consistent, with the “Party At My House,” “Right Thing” and “Workout” triple play. Welcome To The Real World, featuring vocalist Adeva on 10 of the 13 tracks (as well as prominently on the cover alongside Knuckles), contains the huge dance hit “Too Many Fish,” as well as the club sensation “Whadda U Want (From Me).” On the whole, though, the album sounds like the corporate idea of what house music ought to sound like for the masses rather than the foundation on which Knuckles built his own house.
Someone really ought to tell our straight allies (or foes, depending on the day) dancing the night away to thumping electronic beats that dance music is still gay. Gay, gay, gay. Remember that the next time you’re at a mixed-gender wedding and everyone has crowded onto the dance floor to spell out YMCA with their bodies. While we’re on the subject, please express your gratitude to groundbreaking gay disco act, the Village People. Not only did they provide the world with a perennial party favorite, they were also brazenly queer (hello, leather-man and construction worker!) at a time when such images were not all that common in mainstream America. The 11-song Icon (Mercury / UMe) compilation falls short of the superior 1994 The Best of Village People collection (if you can find it, snap it up!), but it does contain essential VP tracks such as “Y.M.C.A.,” “Macho Man,” “Go West,” and important early hits including “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)” and “Hollywood (Everybody Is A Star).”
The voice of Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles steps out on her own on her first solo disc That Girl (Mercury). Produced by Rick Rubin, who retains Nettles’ trademark modern country sound, That Girl feels a little underwhelming when all is said and done. Collaborating with interesting songwriting partners, including Sara Bareilles and Richard Marx (!), Nettles plays it safe throughout, even on the one cover tune, Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock.” If you’re listening to That Girl it probably has something to do with Nettles’ powerful voice and you won’t be disappointed when she belts out on tunes such as the title track, “Falling,” “Know You Wanna Know” and “Good Time To Cry.”
The Belle Brigade is a brother/sister duo with excellent genes. Siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska are the grandchildren of composer John Williams. Of course, The Belle Brigade’s music doesn’t really sound anything like any of their famous grandpa’s compositions (you’re not disappointed, are you?). Instead, out lesbian Barbara and her brother Ethan make sun-soaked modern pop music that is appealing and evocative. The Belle Brigade’s second disc Just Because (ATO) begins with deceptively upbeat and rhythmic numbers such as “Ashes” and “When Everything Was What It Was,” before diving head first into the substance abuse subject matter of “Likely To Use Something.” The pair shares lead vocals on “Be Like Him,” with a nod to queerness. “Miss You In My Life” and “How I See It,” two songs on which Ethan takes the lead, are worth mentioning, as is “Not The One You Want.”
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