Lavender Country

Lavender Country

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Country music tends to reflect a more socially and politically conservative state of mind than most other forms of popular music. That was even more the case in the early '70s than it is today, which makes Lavender Country's first and only album seem all the more brave and unexpected: it was the first album of openly gay-themed country songs, from a band of out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians. In 1973, Patrick Haggerty was a musician and activist who wanted to use music as a means of passing along what he called "the information," basic social and cultural communication in a time when the LGBT community (which didn't even have that name yet) was still struggling to find out what was going on from city to city. Haggerty had grown up listening to country music, and he began writing songs that reflected his own experiences, as well as the larger concerns of the gay community in Seattle, his adopted hometown. With the help of a local activist group, Gay Community Social Services of Seattle, Haggerty and his band recorded a ten-song album, and sold out their independent pressing of 1,000 LPs. Just four years after Stonewall, the mere fact the Lavender Country album existed was an impressive achievement, but several decades after the fact, Lavender Country still works because Haggerty was a talented songwriter whose lyrics range from the randy pleasures of "Come Out Singing" and the screed against sexual gamesmanship "Crying These C**sing Tears" to the tales of institutional abuse in "Waltzing Will Trilogy" and the bitter political messages of "Back in the Closet Again." Haggerty also built these songs around simple but sturdy melodies, and his voice (which suggests Will Geer's hipper younger brother) had a sly insouciance that expresses humor and anger equally well. And if the rest of the band isn't quite as memorable, pianist Michael Carr, fiddler and vocalist Eve Morris, and guitar picker Robert Hammerstrom (the token straight ally in the group) give this music a loose but committed feel that speaks to political commitment as well as the desire to get the crowd hollerin'. Given that the most successful queer country artist to date, kd lang, ended up essentially abandoning country for different sounds after it was obvious Nashville wouldn't support her when she came out, the notion of a gay country album is still something of a novelty more than 40 years after Lavender Country was released. But if the issues have changed, the need for this music has not, and this album is fascinating as a pop culture landmark, as well as good listening from a songwriter with a pretty unique point of view.

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