Hudson grows in new CD

The last time we were media blitzed by Jennifer Hudson, she was winning awards for her movie and album debuts. Hudson stepped away from the spotlight when her mother and brother were murdered, but she’s been quitely coming back — first as a Weight Watchers spokesperson, and now for her sophomore album, I Remember Me.

Considering her recent past, Hudson could easily have made a maudlin album. Instead, she’s delivered a mature set of R&B grooves showing the emergence of a woman. With some help from Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and Ne-Yo, the album stays fresh (while sometimes bordering on passé) with Clive Davis helming the production and Diane Warren injecting sappy ballads.

Despite the soft opening of “No One Gonna Love You,” the album gets going with “I Got This.” This could have been a self-help anthem, but she keeps it cool without showing off her strong voice.

She turns the emotion on in “Where You At.” There is a patience here that’s unexpected, but she can pack a punch. Lyrics like Thought you were my hero / But as it turns out, you a no-show are kinda sassy, but her disappointment reaches beyond the speakers and man; you just feel bad for her.

Davis’ oversight sometimes makes the album a little obvious and the impact is referential rather than modern. What saves it is Hudson believing in these songs. Her most personal song, “I Remember Me” (which she co-wrote), is part ballad, part declaration. With a heavy bass spine, it’s still a delicate bird of a song and knowing her tragic story, she shows her survival mode and even celebrates herself without being narcissistic.

For a relatively newbie artist, Hudson can vocally walk a tightrope with subtle emotion. She holds back when you think she’ll explode with a vocal run, and then she’ll throw one into the fire once you’ve settled back into her quiet groove. It’s a nice trick.

The album does suffer with some clichés. Keys pens three boring songs (you wonder if these are her throwaways because they never resonate). That said, “Don’t Look Down” has a glorious ’80s adult R&B vibe a la Patti Austin or Jeffrey Osborne.

The excitement trails off in the second half and lumbers a bit. The one punctuation that keeps it afloat is “Feeling Good,” made famous by Nina Simone. This gives a punch of energy much needed by this point. Everything is right about this version from the lush horn riff to Hudson’s respectful homage but leaving a very personal stamp on it.

I Remember Me is an exciting step forward for Hudson. Here, she seems to be recognizing the fairy tale that is her life and embracing its reality. She picks up where Whitney and Toni have left off and contemporary music has been missing that kind of vocalist. Despite some missteps, it’s nice to see her return and do so with substance.

— Rich Lopez

Three-and-a-half stars.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Author, author!

Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky add their gay voices to the Dallas literary community

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY | Granowsky, left, and Kirchmeier peek at each other’s tragic tales. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It seems unlikely that Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky had never met before this week, since both are in the niche market of gay writers in Dallas. But perhaps they represent a budding scene of out local authors. Dallas gays are claiming a presence.

When the authors finally met, a literary camaraderie took over. Kirchmeier had heard good things about Granowsky’s book, which delighted Granowsky. Several mutual acquaintances and writing comparisons later, the two seemed like old pals.

Kirchmeier published his first book, The Promise of Hope, four years ago; the story of his hero, Johnny, continues 10 years later in his second novel, The Open Pill Box.

“I intended it to be a sequel but it took on a life of its own,” Kirchmeier says. “It’s so much larger than the first. He’s psychotic as a young man in Promise, but now he keeps himself under control with meds but no safety net.”

He calls his first book more romantic, but in Pill Box, Kirchmeier fully knows the story is not pretty or romantic. Johnny is a gay bipolar man seeking the help of anyone who can get him meds. Without insurance, he’s close to being thrown away by society until he finds a reprieve from his ex and the Catholic Church. Pill Box is also Kirchmeier’s exploration and criticism of America’s healthcare system.

Granowsky explores social topics as well, though from a different perspective. In his 2009 book Teacher Accused, he addresses what happens “when homophobia explodes in a Texas town.” But he has added romance into the picture giving the reader a beacon of hope amid a tragic story.

“I see this story as a journey to pride,” he says. “I think people sometimes feel kind of defective because they are gay. I really want this to have a positive depiction so younger people can see there is a great life to be had — even if it’s in a homophobic society.”

That both books have dour, dire plots begs a curious question: Is gay tragedy an obvious outlet for an out writer? With the usual backgrounds of LGBT people growing up being bullied or shunned, the need to rehash such unpleasant environments for the authors was a catharsis, whether it was experienced first hand or observed.

“I’m bipolar,” Kirchmeier candidly admits. “This is an advocate book for the mentally ill who don’t have insurance and who are gay. I’ve felt thrown away and not wanted. This isn’t my story, but I am in there. Johnny and I are alike in many ways because of the things I’ve seen and life experiences.”

Granowsky, by contrast, writes from observation. As a former educator, he noticed the students who might be gay and the way they were treated by everyone else. He was pained by this memory that years later, and needed to get it out of his system.

“There is a catharsis talking about this,” he says. “It’s like cleansing one’s own sense of self. I needed to let it come out. My value system suffered. The funny thing is, I had no intention of getting published. I just wanted to write it down. It was a labor of love.”

That venting of ill emotions has its rewards. Each author sees his novel making an impact in the community, whether from an appreciative fan or an actually life changing moment. Both express compassion in their books that speaks to readers.

“I looked around and wanted to make a change, a statement,” Kirchmeier says. “I’m angry about the lack of universal healthcare. The way hospitals treat people without insurance. I wanted to speak out in anger and take a look at the social injustice that’s even based here in Dallas.”

He took a year and a half to write The Open Pill Box, and its darkness took a lot out of him physically and emotionally. It affected his hygiene, his health and even his teeth: He became so rapt he eventually had to have a root canal for ignoring his teeth.

That should change with book three.

“I’m currently writing My Best Pledge, which is a lighthearted romp through fraternity hood. And then after that, I’m writing The Paleta Man — a sequel to The Open Pill Box.”

Meanwhile, Granowsky is still reveling in having his book published. With people coming out earlier, he sees a shift in a new generation of pride. Something he didn’t have.

“Younger people are coming out earlier,” he says. “Sometimes they aren’t as prepared but now there are more solid role models for that. Plus, I think this book could inspire people to be proud of who they are and that life can be happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Once the photo was done the authors exchanged books, spreading their message a little further. And each seems to know that they could be part of a homegrown trend of giving a voice to the gay community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas