Anthony De Mare's background in musicals and dance almost sent him down the typical New York theater route, until he detoured into experimental music. Now, while there have been no shortage of gay men in the avant scene (Partch, Cage, etc.) they usually leave all lifestyle references aside when they compose. De Mare's new Innova release "Speak!," however, fuses the two worlds of cabaret and alt-classical. It's as successful as it is unlikely.
One could make the case that gay composers couldn't talk about their lives even if they wanted to due to societal inhibitions, tho the "fine art" world has usually been more open-minded than the mainstream. Or maybe they simply didn't want to get labeled as a "gay act." De Mare seems to have no such qualms - we get 21 minutes of Allen Ginsberg (punctuated with all manner of wacky vocal sounds), lesbian composer Meredith Monk (an excellent moody short piece), and Rodney Sharman's "The Garden," celebrating the excitement of visiting a gay bar for the first time. The one non-gay composer De Mare covers here, Laurie Anderson, also turns in the albums' least interesting track (and I usually like Anderson quite a bit.)
His solo piano, chatty "speak/sing" method has roots in cabaret, but the complex compositions go way beyond the usual Noel Coward revivals. And that's most evident on the album's centerpiece: "De Profundis," based on letters Oscar Wilde sent from prison. De Mare is completely spellbinding as he whispers, howls, sings, and dishes out more weird vocal noises this side of Yma Sumac, his piano following him every step of the way along Wilde's profoundly moving odyssey. Even at 30 minutes it's not too long.
Anthony De Mare "De Profundis" (excerpt)
De Mare has an open, friendly musical manner (look at that smile on his face!) all too often missing from the "serious" music world. Cheerful, humorous music usually isn't considered as legit, for some arbitrary, illogical reason, but I don't think De Mare cares. Heck, this album even has a song about his dog.