Imagine what it takes to be a successful musician. There are many long hours of touring, rehearsing, writing, negotiating, hustling, and branding. This is hard enough for your Average Joe or Jane, but imagine doing this in the 1960’s when you couldn’t release a single on the Internet and have it heard by millions within moments, pay-for-play was still legal and widely practiced, and record labels held your master recordings in a vise-like grip. Now imagine doing all of this before the civil rights movement while you’re black in an industry dominated at the top levels by white people. Now imagine doing this as an openly transgendered woman in the same time period. Jackie Shane did all of that, and she made it look easy.
Jackie Shane’s Any Other Way is a stunning collection of rare singles and live tracks from perhaps the most remarkable performer you haven’t heard and easily one of the best collections and reissues of 2017. Ms. Shane burned up stages in Toronto throughout the 1960’s, releasing a handful of singles and recording some amazing performances, before disappearing for nearly half a century (relocating to Nashville to tend to her ill mother and deciding to stay after her passing).
The double album opens with the sizzling “Sticks and Stones,” a burner in which Shane sings about people trying to shame her and bring her down, but she really doesn’t give a damn. This is a common theme in her catalogue. Shane lived by her own rules and refused to compromise. Her vocals are fierce and almost race ahead of the song, but the horn section of the Frank Motley’s Motley Crew band (for which she sang at the time) keeps up with her well. The title track is a sad song about Shane trying to to convince an ex-lover that she’s happy. The horn section almost has a Latin flavor to it that sets it apart from other similar tracks of the time period.
“In My Tenement” has horns that belong in a Bond film soundtrack. “Comin’ Down” has Shane coming down “with a heartache” as her band’s surf guitar and tight drumming back her assured vocals. Her cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” is fun as a bit emblematic of Shane’s life, who never gave away her skills for free. “I’ve Really Got the Blues” swings as hard as any Chubby Checker or Fats Domino record ever did. “Send Me Some Lovin'” has Shane pining for even a photo of her distant lover. “Walking the Dog” is full of sass and a groove you’ll have in your head all day. The funky organ on “You Are My Sunshine” brings in a bit of a gospel groove, which is no surprise since Shane has openly spoken on the influence of gospel and spiritual classics on her. “Stand Up Straight and Tall” is pretty much the theme of Shane’s life. She lived how she wanted to live and never gave a damn what people thought. You can’t help but wonder about the possible symbolism of “New Way of Love,” especially since Shane sings it with such fire (and the Motley Crew band slays on it). “Cruel Cruel World” has Shane calling for someone to love and not needing sympathy from anyone. It’s a great example of how her vocals could go from soulful ballad to rock wails all in the same song.
That’s just the first disc of this release, by the way. Disc two is a compilation of rare live cuts (with backing band the Hitchhikers including Frank Motley leading it) that are jaw-dropping at times. It opens with “High Heel Sneakers” and Shane singing / tearing through an ode to stepping out in high fashion and being ready to kick ass and take names. Pharrell Williams wishes he could write a groove half as good as the one on “Barefootin’.”
Shane warns that the live version of “Money” is so dangerous that her doctor warned her that performing it could be bad for her heart. It’s over nine minutes of funk, sass, and defibrillating beats. The breakdown on it is fabulous as Shane talks about not caring about what others think of her as she smiles on her way to the back. “I’m going to live while I’m here,” she says. “I don’t satisfy nobody that’s a square,” she also says at another point.
Other high points among the live tracks are “You’re the One (That I Need),” which features some of Shane’s best torch song vocals, the tight horn section groove and Shane’s heartbroken vocals on “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied),” her fun cover of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (in which Shane appears to be cheering on an elderly man dancing in the crowd), the version of “Any Other Way” in which she sings, “Tell her that I’m happy. Be sure to tell her this. Tell her that I’m gay.” (which Shane claims wasn’t her openly admitting her sexuality, but the symbolism is hard to ignore), and the squawking, jumping “Shotgun” in which Shane advises, “You got to shoot your man before he runs.”
It’s a shame that Jackie Shane wasn’t bigger across the world and for longer a time than she was at her peak. There are rumors that she might emerge from her self-imposed (and apparently enjoyable) exile in Nashville and return to perform in Toronto, so we can hope to see and hear more of her soon. In the meantime, get this collection and be stunned by it.
Keep your mind open.
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