Heavy-hearted queer songwriter proves an original on debut
He unearths sadness in joy and beauty in darkness. At first blush, Chris Garneau writes music that seems simple but quickly proves emotionally hefty. A lyricist who finds common cause with songwriting eccentrics like Elliott Smith and Rufus Wainwright, the gay 24-year-old pianist-singer doesn’t shy away from exposing himself. Even at his most heartbroken and vulnerable.
On his Duncan Sheik-produced debut, “Music for Tourists,” Garneau emerges as a clever and touching balladeer. His voice is also odd but original.
Only barely touched up in-studio, almost all of “Music for Tourists” consists of little more than Garneau on vocals and piano with an occasional cello. Singing in a fragile falsetto, Garneau brings a haunting tenderness to his relentlessly morose repertoire.
The record opens with the toddling piano and cello waltz “Castle Time,” a cryptic number that verges on cuteness but eventually redeems itself. Singing “My teacher died / even the frying pan cried,” Garneau shows a love for odd imagery a common habit on this album.
Though it never descends to outright despair, “Music for Tourists” nonetheless has a sad, world-weary quality. There’s a palpable discomfort to the nervous lullaby “Baby’s Romance.” On the haunting “Black and Blue,” Garneau wails “I wanna catch my death of cold / because I’m scared of growing old” to chilling effect.
Even the supposed romantic number “So Far” has a touch of sadness to it, with Hamburger Helper and innumerable nights in front of the TV filling in for a close relationship.
While it’s certainly true that the sensitive singer-songwriter card has been played by way too many, “Music for Tourists” sets itself apart thanks to Garneau’s oddly skewed vision. An album that gets more and more interesting with each subsequent listen, this record heralds an impressive new voice in pop songwriting. Expect to be hearing more about this young songwriter as the year progresses: Work of this caliber doesn’t stay a secret for long.
Since hip-hop continues to lean away from socially aware commentary and toward a rotating collection of thugs and hos, it’s gratifying to hear artists determined to make their mark their own way.
Coming out of Brooklyn, N. Y. via Madison, Wisc., female hip-hopping duo God-des and She give rap a soulful twist that’s refreshing and long overdue. Featuring lesbian rapper God-des alongside femme soul singer She, the pair have become the toast of their adopted town, playing sold-out shows at the legendary Knitting Factory in addition to filling opening slots for artists from MC Lyte to Slick Rick. And they’re headed to Big D for a gig on Saturday.
God-des and She may be proud and fierce feminists. But they’re not prudes. Check out their naughty “L Word” featured single, “Lick It”
Buddies II, 4025 Maple Ave, Feb. 10, 10 p.m. 214-526-0887.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 9, 2007