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TRANSVOCALIZERS — Shawna Virago “Objectified” CD review

| Nov 8, 2010
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Last month, we interviewed singer/songwriter/activist Shawna Virago in this column. As promised, this month we feature a review of her debut project, Objectified.

Produced by Shawna Virago, she also plays guitar, bass, harmonica, and piano, as well as doing all vocals and writing all material. Other musicians include Jeffrey Alphonsus Mooney, drums; Tim Perdue, bass; Sean Dorsey, piano; and Reverend Ben Kessler, keyboards.

As discussed last month, Virago still maintains her activist persona, and has sharpened her street cred quite well with her work as an anti-violence speaker to police groups and other civil authorities. The songs on “Objectified” don’t deviate from the kind of “in-your-face” perseverance needed to do such work.

While Virago is more poet than singer, she’s not limited by her narrow vocal range in getting her message across. In particular, the song Dead War Hero, which bears a striking resemblance to the work of Bob Dylan by way of Woody Gutherie, doesn’t shy away from taking pot shots at an area of American life some artists would normally avoid.

The extended chorus at the end of the song is pretty blatant:

“Wishing upon a death star
Drive by shooting the moon
Hallelujah the little fascist sings
It’s time for his eternal return
It’s time for us to burn”

Dead War Hero is given a full band production, which brings up the one very noticeable trait about the entire project: Virago either uses a full band or performs solo with just voice and guitar. Ether all or nothing.

The band songs begin right way with the project’s title track, Objectified (which contains the great lines “I’m ready for my closeup/first I better go and throw up”). Other full band production songs are Not Everyday People (which sounds like something Neil Young would have written); Johnny Law; Transsexual Dominatrix (one of the better band tracks with its great laid back tension); Million Dollar Day (good instrumentation, very Bod Dylan, and Virago almost talks the lyrics rather than sings them); Meat; and You Drive Me Paranoid.

You Drive Me Paranoid, the project’s closing track, is surf music inspired, with a good sentiment. I can see where an audience could really get into this one.

Virago’s best performances on Objectified (…in my humble opinion…), are the solo moments. Almost Human, Somebody down There Likes Me, I Like Your Flavor, and Butterfly.

Butterfly is Virago’s best song writing on the album. Very heartfelt, and shows that underneath every hard edged street bitch/activist, there is a soul that can be wounded.

“I am a butterfly
I am a butterfly
My wings are razors
I got f****d up hair and skin
How did I get this way?
What century am I in?
I’m a butterfly

I am a butterfly
I am a butterfly
My life’s a rapture
You can’t capture me
From the time that I was born
To the last time I died
I’m a butterfly

I’m a flame and you’re a moth
It’s hard to believe
We’re cut from the same cloth
I’m a flame and you’re a moth
It’s hard to believe
We’re cut from the same cloth
I am a butterfly…I am a butterfly…I am”

For all of Objectified’s edginess and punk rock aesthetic, it still manages to touch on the feelings of hurt and anger that so many transsexuals feel. Virago has delivered some raw but powerful work with her first project.
(www.shawnavirago.com)

ALSO THIS MONTH

Nellie McKay Home Sweet Mobile Home
One of the things I enjoy about being a reviewer is getting to hear music I didn’t expect to hear in the first place. Nellie McKay is the personification of eclectic. She has a real ear for tradition in more than one musical genre’.

McKay’s Normal As Blueberry Pie was reviewed here back in April. Home Sweet Mobil Home (produced by McKay and Robin Pappas) is truly eclectic, and doesn’t stay in one vein as Blueberry Pie did. No one style from the project’s 13 tunes gets repeated.

Bruise On The Sky, the opening track, is the most contemporary sounding. But that’s pretty much where any modern feeling vibe ends.
“Caribbean Time” lives up to its name. “Please” is definitely Vaudeville inspired. Bodegal is a hybrid between Spanish music and 1950s rock, complete with a recitation. Consada Blues is gospel tinged blues with great Hammond organ backing. Unknown Reggae also lives up to it’s name. Absolute Else is the most rock moment on the album, while the project’s closing track, Bluebird, has a Mardi Gras/Dixieland band feel, with McKay singing in a lower register.

McKay offers two tracks that are just voice and one instrument: Adios, with only ukulele, and The Portal, with piano only.

The project’s real stand outs are Beneath The Underdog, which is spite of its title is actually kind of a “feel good” tune; No Equality, definite jazz with a horn section, and McKay’s lower register voice; and Dispossed, which is something I didn’t expect to hear at all. This is right out of the 1940s Big Band era. Very fun stuff.

Okay, so why do I review an artist such as Nellie McKay in a column dedicated to transgendered and/or drag queen vocalists? Well, this is the type of music that works well in any drag show, and I hope some entertainer, somewhere, has latched on to Nellie McKay by now. She’s an incredibly talented lady who practically defies categorization.
(www.nelliemckay.com)

Christmas With The Puppini Sisters

And just in time for the holidays, I was sent a copy of Christmas With The Puppini Sisters. They’re not real sisters, only one is a Puppini-Marcella. The other two are Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins. They met in 2004 at London’s Trinity College of Music. Their first gig was at a gay club that went nuts for them. Since then, their 2007 debut album Bethca Bottom Dollar went gold, and their 2008 release The Rise And Fall of Ruby Woo hit #5 on the U.S. jazz chart.

The Puppini Sisters are a cross between 1940s Andrews Sisters harmonies and The Smiths. The Christmas project, produced by Fred De Faye, contains standards such as Let It Snow, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, and O Holy Night. There’s also a cover of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin Step Into Christmas and George Michael’s Last Christmas.

This is very well produced material with incredibly tight harmonies that work well in any setting. The album would be a great gift item, and once again, good drag entertainers could have a lot of fun with this.


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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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