Thursday, July 25, 2013

Abby Brown -- Go All In

 Please note that Asher Brown has transitioned since the writing of this post. This page, using his former name and transitions, has been left up with Asher's permission. You can find Asher's more current work here.

Before I tell you how great Abby Brown's debut album is, I think it's time we had a little talk.

We need to make a new genre of music here. We're going to call it Cool Butch Blues (and I'll be hashtagging it, because I'd really like it to be A Thing.)

In my two-ish years nosing around the nation's alt-folk and -country music, I've found a growing number of young queermo ladies who have a similar sound, and these ladies tend to be masculine of center (or MOC). It's not a coincidence, but more on that in a minute.

Like all genres, it has a pioneer: Amy Ray. Let's face it, she's the more dynamic half of the Indigo Girls (though neither of them are as good apart as they are with each other.) She's also taken a fairly aggressive stance on her MOC identity, often referring to herself as a man in her songs. This is why, say, Melissa Etheridge isn't part of the group. I'll explain the "butch-ness" aspect in a second. Lastly, Ray has directly inspired and/or befriended many of the women I'd put in this box -- most importantly, Brandi Carlile, whose impact on the rising generation of queer songwriters can't be overstated.
Brandi Carlile and Amy Ray, complete with vest and tie. Obviously.
Today's Cool Butch Blues singers blend Brandi Carlile's folk and Tegan and Sarah's pop sensibility. I had the revelation when I realized how similar Brown's new EP is to another album I reviewed recently, Mo Kenney's debut. That's not to say either artist is derivative -- they're obviously coming from the same place, and that place deserves a name.

So why does the butch part matter? Butch identity is a lot of awesome, complicated, beautiful things. It probably escapes most people's notice, really. One of my straight guy friends and I were checking out women while waiting for a train in Germany, where femininity isn't really a priority for most women. There's just a swagger that certain women have -- not all lesbians, and not even all butch women, but I've never seen a straight woman who has it. It's a cat-like grace, a confidence in yourself, that you've truly claimed who you are. Then combine that with the allure of a guitar.... Suffice to say, it's enough to make any lady-loving-lady go weak in the knees. There's a reason that most of us (un)consciously style ourselves after sensitive badasses like Elvis and James Dean. (As to whether or not Justin Bieber styles himself after lesbians or vice-versa, that's a Zen koan for the ages.)

It comes through in music. As I've said before, men and women tend to sing from a different place emotionally. Frankly, I find men's emotional space more interesting to listen to. Queer women tend to sing from that same space. They don't apologize for their feelings, and they're very conscious of their outsider status -- much like working class white dude music.

I'm not saying I like Abby Brown's music because I think she's hot (though, lezbehonest, it never hurts...and, according to her Autostraddle interview, she's super adorkable.)* This is gut-punching stuff that makes you feel feelings -- a rare accomplishment for anyone, let alone for someone's first album. The opener, "Gamble," could describe my own life, so I assume it applies to most 20-somethings or people who were once 20-somethings. "Angelina" is a heartbreakingly sweet love song (heartbreaking if there's someone you used to be sweet on, sweet if there's someone you are sweet on, and awesome if you haven't felt that way about anyone yet.) There are so many perfect lyrics in these songs it'd be unreal if I didn't already know that John Moreland existed (yes, I'm comparing the two favorably.)

I should really shut up now. But tell me, music nerdlings, do you agree with me? And do you know of anyone else who sings the Cool Butch Blues?

Abby Brown -- Official, ReverbNation, Facebook, CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes

*She's never going to speak to me ever again.

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