Thursday, December 14, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017 Number 5 - Jackie Shane's Any Other Way

Several years ago I was obsessed with finding obscure soul from the 60s. This was before Spotify, but the Internet still provided via various music blogs that would post MP3s of long out of print compilations and albums by artists I'd never heard of. It was on one of those compilations that I first heard a song called "In My Tenement." I knew nothing else except that the imagery and delivery painted a picture of real urban living that felt more alive and underground than most anything else I had ever heard in the genre or the period. Only recently did I learn that the singer, Jackie Shane, was a transgender woman who should have been a huge star, but, mysteriously, decided to quit in 1971. She never recorded a full studio album, but this year, Any Other Way, a collection of all her singles and the one live album she ever put out gives as complete a picture as we're going to get of this artist.

I'm always fascinated when I find artists who didn't quite make into the collective pantheon of recognized greats for any given era. Nostalgia sometimes has the effect of making it seem like there were only a handful of artists working in any particular era. Or that only that relatively small group of remembered artists had anything to contribute. So when performers like Jackie Shane are discovered it's a truer window into that time than the more well known acts that have been re-contextualized over the years. The fact that it's an artist that was marginalized for who she was opens a door to corners of the 60s we don't hear much about. And on top of all that, this was an incredibly talented artist who was poised to be a breakout star, to the point she was even invited by George Clinton to join Parliament Funkadelic, but declined.

All social context aside, what remains is an artist with a unique voice in the genre. Blending a velvety vibrato with an energy and ferocity that could be unleashed at will, it's not hard to see why at one point she was asked to leave a tour with Jackie Wilson for upstaging him. The album's title track was her biggest hit and it's not hard to see why. It's a song that she imbues with a subtle complexity in her delivery that is both weary and self-assured as she gives new meaning to the line "Tell her that I am happy/Tell her that I am gay/Tell her I wouldn't have it/Any other way." My favorite track on the album is probably "Walking the Dog" which is effortlessly smooth and funky. The band(s) on these songs are all tight, but the way Shane's voice glides is pretty amazing, whether she's belting out a impassioned scorcher or attacking an upbeat dance number.

The live portion of the album is a lot more raw and gives us a glimpse of what the energy of her shows was like. Here the swagger and ferocity is fully unleashed on classics like "Money (That's What I Want)," a grinding and funky "You Are My Sunshine" and even James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." In between songs, her banter reveals a personality that was ready for the big time. I can only imagine what her career may have been like, the impact she might have had, if she had continued performing all these years. This is an artist that deserves to be more than a cult figure for music nerds to collect.

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