This is an exclusive song premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight ascending New England musicians.
When Anna Rae created the live performance series All Together Now in 2016, she was venturing into unknown territory. The musician and curator wanted to bring people together: across genre, across difference, across cities. Her goal was to elevate queer artists, women and people of color, mostly from greater Boston, but some from New York City. In this utopian-tinged vision, they'd all be mixed up together — rappers next to prog rock bands, performance artists alongside tango dancers, and an intergenerational audience that was open to it all.
Three years later, All Together Now is on its 11th installment, set for Nov. 9. Rae's focus has narrowed to greater Boston, and she has learned a few things — namely, how to get funding. (The series has twice been a recipient of the Boston Foundation's Live Arts Boston grant.) After taking 2018 off, Rae decided to cut back on the number of events she puts together each cycle, nearly by half, to devote more resources and energy to promotion. She observed that, while artists appreciated paid performance opportunities, "what they really reacted to was the promotional support." Rae recalled how one artist repurposed a photo of himself from a Scout Somerville article about the series in his email signature. In other words, the press and social media garnered by All Together Now helped legitimize independent artists as much as, or more than, the event itself.
It was perhaps with this in mind that Rae concocted the rather novel promotional strategy of releasing three singles — all together, as it were — by musicians performing at All Together Now. (The tactic worked — here we are, after all, premiering the tracks.) The artists — singer-songwriter Jenee Halstead, rapper Red Shaydez and Rae's band Hemway — each bring a distinctive touch. Together, they show just how eclectic and creative All Together Now can be. Have a listen to all three below:
Jenee Halstead, 'The Crying Game'
Jenee Halstead knew she would be filling big shoes when she decided to cover "The Crying Game," the Geoff Stephens-penned song popularized, by Boy George, in the 1993 film of the same name. (Look for Halstead's new solo album, "Disposable Love," in 2020.) "The weight of this felt like something that needed to be honored," Halstead says, due to the film's ahead-of-its-time portrayal of the transgender character Dil. Halstead's take on "The Crying Game" is more grounded than its predecessor; she trades Boy George's swimmy synths for deep, reverb-laden guitars and his ethereal vocals for a full-chested croon. Her version takes on an eerie, almost macabre tenor. "One day soon I'm gonna tell the moon about the crying game," she sings. "And if he knows, maybe he'll explain." In Halstead's hands, those playful lyrics deepen.
Red Shaydez, 'Circa '96'
In the era of SoundCloud's loose, impressionist rap, Red Shaydez proudly hearkens back to the dense rhymes of hip-hop's golden era. "Circa '96," from her upcoming album "Feel The Aura," is the rapper's ode to that time. It's packed with inside references, like Lil Kim's classic album "Hard Core" and Funkmaster Flex's "Funk Flex bomb" sound effect from his iconic New York radio show. The beat, produced by ENON Jacobs, revels in record scratches and moody samples. "For me, bars still matter," Shaydez intones on a spoken interlude, referring to the complex wordplay favored by '90s rappers. "See, I'm even talking on a track like they did in the '90s." But "Circa '96" is more than just cheek; it's a nostalgic look back at simpler times, told through the memories of a '90s kid. "Neighbors stayed looking out/ Families still were together," Shaydez raps. Whether or not things were as really as good as she remembers, she makes you believe it.
"Camera" is the kind of song that sneaks up on you: first a meditative bass line, then a slinky guitar lick. "Paint your nails/ Change your face/ I need a whore or saint," vocalist Chloe Green sings forebodingly. The song builds to a combustive climax, guitars and drums playing aggressive counterpoint to Green's keening crescendo. "Camera" is about "how we are conditioned to perform for cameras from a very young age," Green says. The song, she adds, "draws the link between 'cutting up' and manipulating images for advertising and the cutting of our bodies when we go under the knife to change our appearance to match advertised images we see in print or on screen." Hemway renders the theme with ominous skepticism. Even as the group questions the ubiquity of cameras in contemporary life, you get the sense there's no escape.
This article was originally published on November 01, 2019.