Dig These Discs :: Robert Creighton, Lana Del Ray, Sharon Van Etten, Susan SurfTone, Amy Ray

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Wednesday February 15, 2012

Sexy Lana Del Ray - Have The Jeers Been Deserved?
Sexy Lana Del Ray - Have The Jeers Been Deserved?  

Lesbian musicians populate this installment of "Dig These Discs," with new albums from Indigo Girls' Amy Ray, and newly-out surf rocker Susan SurfTone. Indie artist Sharon Van Etten drops a hot release, and Lana Del Ray debuts her new album, despite jeers for her recent "Saturday Night Live" appearance. Finally, Broadway's Robert Creighton goes full show-tune madness that'll force you to either love it or leave it.

"Lung of Love" (Amy Ray)

Amy Ray releases her sixth solo album in a decade, a fabulous collection of rock, punk, and acoustic with probably the worst title of all time. Ray explained the name, saying, "The lung of love is my singing voice. That is what comes out of me; but always in a struggle with its own clumsiness and frailty." A sweet sentiment to be sure, but undeniably clunky. Fortunately, the music lives up to Ray's high standards. This collection of 10 songs benefits from participation by producer Greg Griffith, Julie Wolf on keyboard, and former Butchies' bandmembers Melissa York on drums and Kaia Wilson on guitar and vocals. The title track is a classic rock song, in the vein of Billy Joel hits. "Little Revolution" is a catchy, punky tale about wanting to shut down in the face of pain, but finding power in someone who is open to life. Ray gives her shout-out to other wild rockers, singing, "There's a little Joe Strummer in my DNA, and a little Lynnee Breedlove, to take me a long way." "Bird in the Hand" showcases Ray's crystalline voice in an ode to loving the one you're with, and employs the sobriquet "Huckleberry Hound" to the best effect ever. Her acoustic, countrified "I Didn't" looks at how love makes us damaged goods, singing, "Someone broke your heart; I didn't. Someone played too hard/ I didn't." To counter this is "When You're Gone, You're Gone," in which Ray sings, "You'll be falling asleep in the one that treated you right." A punk feel arises in the rapid-fire track, "Give it a Go", and again in "Glow," while "Crying in the Wilderness" hearkens back to a classic Indigo Girls sound. "Yes we go walking in that rubble/ yes we go walking in that heat," sings Ray in "From Haiti," her song of respect to the Haitians after the earthquake. Her percussive acoustic strum-beat is punctuated by lyrics that underscore the resilience of the people. A backwoods-country, old-time Jesus rock feel arises in "The Rock is My Foundation," recorded on analog in Griffith's Greensboro, NC, warehouse studio, with Brandi Carlile joining Ray on the chorus. (Daemon Records)

"Shore" Susan SurfTone

For someone raised in upstate New York, openly lesbian artist Susan SurfTone has quite a good handle on the "surf rock" format. Her new album, "Shore," features a lot of the "retro-yet-modern" sound she became known for as leader of the band, Susan and the SurfTones. "Shore," her first solo release, is a collection of a dozen instrumental tunes that capture the Hang 10 vibe. "Agate" is a steady, instrumental surf beat featuring innovative percussion including wood block and snare; "Compression" features equally nice percussive chimes. "Jade" employs some interesting rattling percussives that shake up the staid beat nicely. "Chance" is a speeded-up surf rock tune, reminiscent of early Violent Femmes tracks like, "Blister in the Sun." She compares it to the early '60s chestnut "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In." The guitar breaks are solid, and give the song that extra jump. "Checker" has a heavy bass intro, with some intricate guitar work that evokes "La Bamba." Her tune "Tide" is pure surf rock; listening to it almost one to do that jive dance step, "The Swim". "HuDu" has a more psychedelic vibe, sounding a bit like a slowed down rendition of "Woolly Bully" or "My Baby Does the Hanky Panky," complete with echoing retro synth. The album closes with a cover of The Doors' hit, "Riders on the Storm" in which SurfTone uses the organ as the hook, and incorporates the central riff of The Chantays' "Pipeline," adding a bona fide bass line by Susan, who said she perfected her skills on the instrument specifically for this recording. Asking little from the listener but to sit back and enjoy, "Shore" is a real day at the beach. (Acme Brothers Records)

"Tramp" (Sharon Van Etten)

With a simmering, acoustic strum sound that evokes The Cowboy Junkies, Sharon Van Etten's third release, "Tramp" is a minimalists' dream album. Her double-track vocals and melancholy feel has critics comparing her to Cat Power -- a comparison to which she does not take kindly. "We all make mistakes", Van Etten chroons in "All I Can." The "introspective folk" continues in "Ask," in which Van Etten sings, "It hurts too much to ask." This Brooklyn-based singer's work has also attracted notice from other bands; The National and Bon Iver covered the song, "Love More" from her debut album "Epic". "Give Out" has a nice acoustic back strum intro, but the lyrics are glum: "You're the reason why I'll move to the city/ you're why I'll need to leave." "I'm Wrong" is thin and quietly piercing, while "In Line" is slow, with lazy drums, but equally spare. "Joke or a Lie" showcases Van Etten's breathy vocals, which seem to hold a light to the inner turmoil of her soul. The track "Kevin's" does a good job highlighting her chops, and "Leonard," is a caustic breakup song, with the lyrics, "He's smart, he leaves me wanting more, knowing that I gave less, and knowing why." "Magic Chords" sets up with a calvary drumbeat, and, for her anyway, a positively upbeat message of, "You've got nothing to lose this time." She speeds things up on "Serpents," which hisses with bile, and is among the best of the bunch. Traveling far and wide and couch-surfing for two years, Van Etten's music itself seems to have adopted a transitory property. Van Etten's droning sound can be a bit of a drag, but sometimes, life demands such stark reality. (Jagjaguwar)

"Born to Die" (Lana Del Ray)

Rechristening herself from Lizzie Grant was not enough to save Lana Del Ray from wide critical pans of her January 14 appearance on "Saturday Night Live," which some, like Gawker's Nick Denton, called "one of the worst outings in 'SNL' history." She sang her new releases, "Born to Die" and "Video Games," both slow moving, morose, sonorous electronic songs. Her particular style showcases her hushed vocals, and of the dozen songs on her new release, these are the two strongest picks. The remainder of the songs rehash the sounds of other successful female artists. "Dark Paradise" and "Off to the Races" present the rapid-fire patter of Rihanna's songs; "Diet Mountain Dew" sounds like Jessie J's hit, "Price Tag"; "National Anthem" employs the rhyme scheme made popular by Nicki Minaj; and "Million Dollar Man" smacks of La Roux's "In For the Kill." With superficial lyrics like "Got that summertime sadness" and "One for the money, two for the show/ I love you honey, and so I'm finally ready to go," the whole effort smacks of someone who is throwing things at the wall, if only to see what will stick. Del Ray has a strong enough voice, imbued with a mesmerizing Hollywood pop/sadcore quality. Once she determines exactly what her style is and finds a way to let her songs tell a story worth hearing, she will likely find a more receptive audience. Although I want only success for this sweet Brooklyn girl who professes among her influences David Lynch, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, and soundtracks from classic movies of the '50s, it's going to take a bit more soul-searching before Del Ray finds her truth. Luckily, her voice is not without charm, she is easy on the eyes, and at the tender age of only 24, she has plenty of time to make it work. (Interscope)

"Ain’t We Got Fun" (Robert Creighton)

While I'm certain Creighton meant this as a hypothetical, the answer is a resounding "no." This collection of 14 of the most overworked songs on Broadway does no service to this actor/singer/dancer/writer/composer's passable singing voice. Creighton, a veteran of six Broadway shows and currently appearing as the Purser in the Tony Award-winning revival of "Anything Goes" should be happy being a quadruple threat, and leave it at that. Singing such songs as "Has Anybody Seen My Gal," "I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)," and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" somehow seems disingenuous, despite his burly, Canadian, Christian-college educated patina. There seems to be no genuine feeling when Creighton sings, "I have looked all over but no girlie can I find/ who seems to be just like the little girl I have in mind" -- despite that he is married with a child. (Creighton has said that his parents were "really into the movie musicals.") And in "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," the intro sounds like Creighton has put a piece of wax paper over a comb and started humming. The best of these romantic Broadway standards is "I'll Be Seeing You," which is saved by a stellar turn by the brass section. He even does okay with his own song, "Crazy 'Bout You," despite lyrics like, "We've talked and talked it's been great, we've learned a lot about each other/ but I don't want to talk so much, that I turn into your brother." Unfortunately, it has to contend with such lackluster, moss-covered touchstones as "My Buddy," "Accentuate the Positive/Look for the Silver Lining," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "You Are My Sunshine." Seriously? "You are My Sunshine?" Even the folks at French's Mustard got tired of that old tune back in the '80s. As said, Creighton does possess a decent set of pipes, and seems to have good theater contacts, as his album features duets with Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Joel Grey, and Tituss Burgess. On StageRush.com, he admits, that, "Basically, my favorite singers all happen to be friends of mine." Future musical endeavors might benefit from consulting with those friends to help with a winnowing down of "acceptable" cover songs. For I just can't imagine in which circumstance one would choose "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as casual listening music. (LML Music)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.