After detouring into blues (Blood, Bones & Baltimore), Latin music (Tango) and other genres, disappear fear, led by the versatile SONiA, returns with its best album in years. Broken Film incorporates politics and social commentary in SONiA’s distinctive style, but also takes on family (“Farmland and The Sky,”), spirituality (“Ari Ari”) and, of course, love (the anthemic “Love Out Loud” and “L Kol L Vavcha,” which is partially sung in Hebrew). The album’s high point is the breathtaking “The Banker,” in which SONiA deftly addresses the impact of the financial crisis with wisdom, sensitivity and fury.
Bi-singer/songwriter Ezra Furman includes a quote by trans writer/activist Kate Bornstein in the liner notes of his new disc Day of the Dog. Listening to Furman’s latest release is a little like walking through the pound and looking at all the pooches in cages, each with its own distinctive personality. There’s the fierce “Maybe God Is a Train,” the affectionate “Been So Strange” (dig that brass) and “Slacker/Adria,” which is the kind of mixed-breed that stops people in their tracks. Considered the suburban Chicago Bob Dylan of his generation, Furman whips listeners into a frenzy on “I Wanna Destroy Myself,” which combines the garage heat of Hunx & His Punx with the Violent Femmes. “Tell ’Em All to Go to Hell” is a slicked-back, rockabilly rouser. “My Zero” is easily one of Furman’s catchiest and most pop-friendly tunes.
The subject of Lily Keber’s fascinating documentary Bayou Maharaj: The Tragic Genius of James Booker, the late, queer New Orleans piano legend James Booker was a gifted performer with a serious substance abuse problem. He died at 43 in 1983. Booker was so unpredictable that he was able to make only a few studio albums. To coincide with the release of the documentary film about him, Classified, considered his masterwork, has been reissued as Classified: Remixed and Expanded. It’s an exceptional 22-track crash course in Booker. Almost half of the songs were previously unreleased, including the extraordinary Booker original “I’m Not Sayin’,” which says plenty about his talent.
As flamboyant and talented as James Booker, Sir Elton John also has battled demons. Fortunately, he was able to overcome them. John’s new album The Diving Board finds the piano man re-teamed with T Bone Burnett (who produced John’s collaboration disc with Leon Russell). It’s an admirable return to form. In this outing, John’s sensational playing is not buried under distracting production effects. “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” one of the album’s best songs, reminds us of the way John first made us swoon decades ago. His keyboard prowess also distinguishes “The Ballad of Blind Tom,” “My Quicksand,” “Home Again,” and “The New Fever Waltz.” John hasn’t had a hit single in a while, and he may not have one on The Diving Board either. But “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight,” which recalls some of his 1980s hits, has the best shot.
Is there anything more thrilling than connecting with a band and following it from its first album to its latest, charting its evolution and growth? A melding of Tegan and Sara, Le Tigre and Luscious Jackson, the queer Portland band Lovers has been through a series of incarnations in its more than 10 years of existence. A trio since 2010’s Dark Light, Lovers delivers on the promise of that record with its latest – the brilliant A Friend in the World. “The Modern Art Museum of the Modern Kiss Goodbye” is a perfect dance track, “Oh Yeah” has a funky strut, “Lavender Light” is a dreamy pop number and “James Baldwin & the Diagonal Trance” delivers subtle electro. Dark Light should have listeners falling for Lovers.