MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Ann Wilson, Nancy & Lee, fanclubwallet, Stoney & Meatloaf

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Ann Wilson has one of the most recognizable, and impressive, voices in rock, whether she’s fronting her own band Heart or going solo. Fierce Bliss (Silver Lining Music) is a solo outing, and sees her making one of her own dreams come true; recording for the album began at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama (where such artists as Elton John, Cher, Willie Nelson, and Millie Jackson have recorded).

There are some well-chosen covers; a beautiful version of Queen’s “Love of My Life” (sharing the vocal with Vince Gill), while tackling Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” is an obvious pick for a voice as powerful as Wilson’s. And her own co-written numbers crackle with a spirited energy. “Greed” turns a critical eye on a culture where however much you consume it’s not enough; “A Moment in Heaven” takes on the entertainment industry (“Hollywood be thy name”), where the next big thing becomes yesterday’s news all too soon. The chunky rock riffs of the ’70s are still Wilson’s musical calling card, and she also loves a deep dive into the blues, as you can hear on the searing “Angel’s Blues.” Wilson is currently on US/Canadian tour through June 24, with a performance at FloydFest22 in Floyd, Virginia, set for July 30.

Nancy Sinatra’s career got a huge boost when she recorded Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (just check out the groovy promo film). But then things started to get really interesting. Reissue label Light in the Attic launched their Nancy Sinatra Archival Series in 2021 with the release of the compilation Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin’ 1965-1976, followed by a reissue of her first album, Boots. Now comes the reissue of her first collaborative album with Hazlewood, Nancy & Lee.

It was a pairing Sinatra jokingly describes in the album’s liner notes as a “beauty and the beast” match up, with Hazlewood’s stentorian deep baritone and Sinatra’s cool been-there-done-that delivery. In the ethereal “Some Velvet Morning,” she embodies the spirit of the mythological doomed princess Phaedra, as Hazlewood mournfully sings of how she brought him to ruin. There’s a haunting rendition of “Elusive Dreams,” about a couple continually searching for those greener pastures and never finding them. It’s an album of sophisticated adult pop, and this reissue comes with two excellent bonus tracks, a jazzy cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange,” and an astonishing remake of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You.” Look for a reissue of the follow up, Nancy & Lee Again, coming later this year.

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me (AWAL) is the debut album by fanclubwallet, the music project from Ottawa-based Hannah Judge (who’s also an illustrator). It’s primarily a solo outing, with Judge writing most of the songs, and producer Michael Watson also doing some co-writing and playing drums; the two split up the other instruments (guitar, bass, synths) between them.

This is a break up album that evinces a strong sense of self-awareness. “That I Won’t Do” captures the confusion of contradictions (wanting to talk, not wanting to talk), nicely summed up in the lines “Maybe I can split myself in two/Maybe there’s a me that hasn’t met you.” “Toast” is a song about cocooning, holing up until you feel it’s safe to go outside again (which could possibly be never). “Solid Ground” is about getting back to stability, and the title track is a study in communication breakdown. Everything’s set to a crisp, clean indie rock beat, a sound that’s as bracing as fresh air on a brisk walk.

In 1970, Shaun “Stoney” Murphy and Michael Aday, aka Meatloaf (which he’d later split into two names, Meat Loaf), were in a Detroit production of the rock musical Hair, where their singing capabilities captured the attention of Motown Records. The two were signed by the label, and Meatloaf & Stoney was released in 1971. The album’s since been reissued in various configurations, with Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records now fleshing out the original 10-track album to two CD’s worth of songs on Everything Under the Sun: The Motown Recordings, featuring the original album and plenty of bonus tracks.

Both singers have commanding voices (Phillips received acclaim in Hair for her powerful rendition of “Easy to Be Hard”), and their playful jousting in the rousing “What You See Is What You Get” took them into the R&B Top 40. The songs are an eclectic mix of gospel-rock (“[I’d Love to Be] As Heavy as Jesus”), breezy pop (“The Way You Do the Things You Do”) and funky blues (“Game of Love”). The second disc has Murphy’s solo tracks, including her fine 1973 single “Let Me Come Down Easy,” the Bobbie Gentry-styled country rock “Mo Jo Hannah,” and an expressive cover of Janis Joplin’s “A Woman Left Lonely.” A fun record to rediscover.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Juanita Euka, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Karen Dalton, Irma Thomas

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Born in RD Congo, raised in Buenos Aires, and now based in the UK, Juanita Euka has already made a name for herself through singing with groups like the London Afrobeat Collective, Latin/Afro band Aminanz, and Cuban fusion group Wara. Now she steps out on her own, with her exhilarating solo debut, Mabanzo (Strut Records). Euka’s musical heritage encompasses not only Latin and African influences, but also absorbing her father’s favorites when she was growing up in Argentina, like Sinatra and Roxette (“he LOVED Roxette!”), and discovering what she calls “female singers with attitude” (TLC, Salt-N-Pepa) via MTV. It’s a rich tapestry to draw from, making her music especially vibrant and enticing.

The opening track, “Alma Seca” (“Dry Soul”), begins with a simple, steady beat, adds gently tapping percussion, then brings in Euka’s cool voice, her light, breezy delivery offering no clue that the lyrics are actually about a failed love affair. Whether singing in Spanish, English, or French, the percolating rhythms draw you in, and there’s a decided life-affirming subtext to much of the album. “Suenos de Libertad” (“Dream of Freedom”) is a beguiling number about the struggle for justice as a way of honoring the past. “Blood” is a proud, uplifting song about the perseverance of hope. “Camarades” (“Comrades”) accentuates the positive in preparing for the future: “You have to change the day/You have to change your destination/It all starts in your head.” Euka’s musical journey is one that’s worth celebrating.

It’s been great to see pioneering women guitarists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe finally getting recognition for their accomplishments. Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is another musician who broke ground as one of the few women musicians on the R&B circuit, wielding her guitar for decades before she finally got the opportunity to release her first album, at age 60. Now, three years after her death in 2019 at the age of 80, comes her first live album, In Paris (Music Maker Foundation), taken from a 2012 show.

Watkins described her style as “real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues … hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues,” and she certainly smokes throughout this set, from the anti-war vibes of “Baghdad Blues” to the rollicking wrap up, “Get Out on the Floor.” She growls her way through a fierce take of “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles (whom she used to play with), and sweetly croons Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” And for a master class in blues you can’t do better than the steamy “Red Mama Blues,” named after one of her guitars.

Karen Dalton didn’t sound like any other folk singer, with a bluesy cast to her voice that drew comparisons with Billie Holiday (though she herself cited Bessie Smith as her greatest influence). Dalton, of Native American and Irish heritage, was born in Texas and grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, where she learned to play guitar and banjo. She arrived in Greenwich Village just in time for the folk boom of the 1960s, but never reconciled with the machinations of the music industry, and after the release of her second album, she retired as a performer (tellingly, an ad promoting the record was headlined “For 10 years, Karen Dalton has been trying hard not to be famous”). She later struggled with substance abuse, and died of AIDS-related illness in 1993 at the age of 55.

Over the years, Dalton’s music resurfaced in television series and films (Brittany Runs a Marathon, The Serpent). Now comes the reissue of that second album, In My Own Time (Light in the Attic) in an expanded edition. Dalton generally performed other people’s songs, and the album has a mesmerizing version of the traditional ballad “Katie Cruel,” a sorrowful tale of a woman in decline: “When I first came to town/They brought me drinks of plenty/Now they’ve changed their tune/And hand me the bottles empty.” There’s a fine honky-tonk rendition of “How Sweet It Is,” and, for the first time, the release of Dalton’s live recordings, including “Blues on the Ceiling,” “Are You Leaving for the Country,” and a heart-rending version of her best known number, “Something On Your Mind.”

Irma Thomas, “the Soul Queen of New Orleans,” had her first hit when her single, “Don’t Mess with My Man,” reached No. 22 on the R&B chart in 1960; she’d just turned 19. Over the course of her career she landed other hits on the R&B and pop charts, and released a number of gospel albums as well. Her songs also came to the attention of other artists; Tracey Ullman would record “Breakaway,” and the Rolling Stones would cover “Time Is On My Side,” both previously recorded by Thomas in 1964.

In the 1970s, Jerry Wexler signed Thomas to Cotillion Records, but the label only ended up releasing one single by her, “Full Time Woman,” in 1972; the rest of the tracks were left to languish in the vaults. They first escaped on CD in 2014; now vinyl fans can partake in the bounty on Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album (Real Gone Music), pressed on light blue vinyl. The title track is a stirring song of independence, sung from the perspective of a proud woman in search of personal fulfillment. There’s a powerful version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy,” with Thomas’ own Southern roots adding further authenticity to this tale of sin and redemption. There’s also original material, such as the jauntily optimistic “Waiting for Someone,” with the promise of good times just around the corner.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Leslie Winer, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Laura Nyro

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Leslie Winer recorded a remarkable album in 1990. Witch, with its heady mix of dub beats, hip hop, soul, and funk, was trip hop before the term even really been coined. It was then held up in record company limbo and not released until 1993, under the name “©,” by which time it seemed behind the curve. But enough advance copies had circulated among music scenesters in London, where Winer was then based, that the New Musical Express belatedly credited her as “the grandmother of trip hop.”

It was an accolade she was dubious about; “I’m not sure I even know what trip hop is even now,” she told the Quietus in 2012. A compelling new anthology, When I Hit You — You’ll Feel It (Light in the Attic) gives you a broader perspective of her work, drawing from Witch and subsequent recordings, along with a few previously unreleased tracks. Winer’s voice is low and husky, her observations sharp and cutting. The album’s title comes from the song “N1 Ear,” where a rhythmic beat suddenly gives way to a litany of sexual inequality: “If I get raped, it must be my fault, and if I get bashed, I must’ve provoked it.” It’s a dizzying blend of beats and samples, whispered entreaties, and provocative utterances. In addition to the album, Winer’s cover of Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was” (recorded with Maxwell Sterling) is available separately.

One of the pleasures of writing my first book, She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, was discovering so many female performers I’d never heard of before. Names like Wanda Jackson and Lady Bo were new to me. I learned that the women hanging out with Barbra Streisand on the inner gatefold sleeve of her Barbra Joan Streisand album were in a band themselves, called Fanny. And then there was the Goldie and the Gingerbreads.

“Who was the first all-women rock ‘n’ roll band?” As the liner notes for the new Gingerbreads’ compilation, Thinking About the Good Times: Complete Recordings 1964-1966 (Ace Records) put it, it’s something of a rhetorical question; after all, groups of women have been playing together since instruments were invented. But Good Times claims the Gingerbreads as the first significant rock ‘n’ roll band: “Of that, there can be little doubt.”

This is a release where the liner notes are just as important as the music, because it’s the first time a full account of the Gingerbreads’ story has been told. The roots of the band were formed when singer Genyusha “Goldie” Zelkovicz (now Genya Ravan) met drummer Ginger Bianco (originally Virginia Panebianco) in New York City in 1962. A series of Gingerbreads came and went, with the lineup that would enter the recording studio solidified by 1964; Goldie, Ginger, keyboardist Margo Lewis, and guitarist Carol MacDonald.

The group dazzled New York society (they were namechecked by Tom Wolfe in an essay for Esquire), and then headed to the U.K., where they opened for the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. They were first to record “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” (later a hit for Herman’s Hermits), but this pop confection wasn’t really the Gingerbreads’ forte. They much preferred the steamier flipside, “Little Boy.” This was a group that loved rock and R&B; listen to their rock solid version of “What Kind of Man Are You” by Ray Charles, or the sizzling high energy of “Think About the Good Times.” This collection also has previously unreleased material: a terrifically bluesy “Look For Me Baby;” Goldie’s burning lead vocal on “Sporting Life;” and the instrumental keyboard dazzler “Margo’s Groove.” Goldie & the Gingerbreads laid down a path for other women to follow, and it’s great to see them getting the recognition they deserve.

It’s hard to think of Laura Nyro as being “underrated.” After all, she’s the composer of classics like “Wedding Bell Blues,” “And When I Die,” and “Stoned Soul Picnic” to name a few, and she’s been cited as an influence by any number of musicians (Elton John, Todd Rundgren, Cyndi Lauper). But those songs became hits for other performers; ironically, Nyro’s best-selling single was a song she didn’t write, a cover of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Up On the Roof.” People knew her work, but didn’t necessarily know the artist who created it.

American Dreamer (Madfish/Snapper Music) offers a deep dive into her catalogue with a vinyl box set featuring Nyro’s first seven albums, plus an eighth disc of rarities exclusive to the set. Her first four albums are stunning in their originality, a blend of pop/soul/jazz/avant garde that doesn’t fall into any readily identifiable category, which might not have helped Nyro get on mainstream radio but made her an undeniably compelling performer. Her 1971 album, Gonna Take a Miracle, was a fond look back at her roots: girl group sounds (“I Met Him On a Sunday”) and Motown (“Dancing in the Street”), with vocal backing by Labelle. Smile and Nested examined her life in retreat from the music industry (“Money”) and embracing motherhood (“Child in a Universe”).

The eighth album, Rarities and Live Recordings, brings together such delights as the demo of “Stoned Soul Picnic,” the New York Tendaberry outtake “In the Country Way,” and four tracks from a 1971 gig at the Fillmore East, including a lovely version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” And that’s not the only recent Nyro release. Tree of Ages: Laura Nyro Live in Japan, previously not issued in the US, is now available, and Go Find the Moon: The Audition Tape, a great disc of previously-unreleased material, is due in September.