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First Play: Jackie Shane, Any Other Way

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Andrea Warner

Finding one’s voice, negotiating its depths and heights, calculating the power and very real risk of revealing your truth — there’s so much to consider about the living legacy of the pioneering R&B/soul singer and entertainer Jackie Shane.

CBC Music is proud to present the advance stream of Any Other Way, the first Shane-sanctioned collection of her own music in more than 40 years. The album comes out on Oct. 20 and is available for pre-order here.

Any Other Way is a fantastic, triumphant, headrush of a collection that consists of six 45s from the '60s, as well as three unreleased tracks, and a live recording of Shane’s famed 1967 concert at the former Sapphire Tavern in Toronto. Just three years after that historic performance, Shane all but disappeared from the public eye, telling friends she had to leave Canada. Around 1970, she vanished.

In just 10 years, Shane had changed Canada and its music scene. Shortly after moving to Montreal from the United States in 1960, she started singing. Shane relocated to Toronto the next year, and steadily built up a reputation as an incredible live performer, with people comparing her to the likes of Little Richard and James Brown. At that point, Shane dressed in both suits and more feminine clothing for performances, and since she was a teen, Shane has identified as a woman born in a man's body. She was a revelation, and Shane became a crucial part of Toronto’s LGBTQ music history.

In the decades following her disappearance from public life, rumours of her death circulated, but nobody knew for sure where she’d gone. Elaine Banks’s 2010 CBC Radio Inside the Music investigation, I Got Mine: The Story of Jackie Shane, resurrected interest in Shane’s remarkable story, as did Bruce McDonald’s 2011 documentary, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories. CBC couldn’t even confirm that Shane was alive at the time — though obviously she was, and is. This is what makes Any Other Way such an exciting, worthwhile anthology: it’s the first time since the 1969 release of her first official single that Jackie Shane has had any authority over the production of her own music.

Listening to Any Other Way is a transformational experience, particularly the live recording from the Sapphire Tavern. Her voice is incredible: hums stretching into howls, brash swagger giving way to unguarded vulnerability, and always a playful wink when the lyrics of a song would get too knowing, too real — and yet deeply deliberate choices on Shane’s part in deciding who and what to cover.

Consider the lyrics to Any Other Way’s opening track, Titus Turner’s’ "Sticks and Stones," which Ray Charles popularized in 1960:

I've been abused
(I've been abused)
In my heart
(my heart's been torn)
I've been accused
(I've been accused)
I've been 'buked
(I've been 'buked and I've been stung)

People talkin' tryin' to break us up, yeah
Scandalizin' my name
They'll say anything just to make me feel bad
Yes anything to make me shame

Titus Turner

And of course, the title track, wherein she sings, “tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay, I wouldn’t have it … any other way.”

Shane delivered a lot of these lines with at least a half-nod to her performative identity in the ’60s — possibly in part to create distance between herself and the songs, to placate any transphobic, homophobic or racist listeners/music industry people who couldn’t contend with the reality of her existence at a time when homosexuality was a criminal act in Canada (it wouldn't be decriminalized until 1969).

Thinking about the constant vigilance Shane likely practised is heartbreaking. It also must have been utterly exhausting for her, and yet essential to both her safety, and to cultivating a wider audience.

There are countless standout moments throughout this double album, including the breathtaking “Cruel Cruel World,” on which Shane declares, “I don’t need your sympathy/ I wanna know if I’ll ever be free.” “Raindrops” moves from delicate mist to raging weather system, and “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” is as close to perfect a song as I’ve ever heard. Her voice gives you chills, and the band is phenomenal.

We can’t change the past and make Jackie Shane a household name — and maybe that’s not something she ever wanted — but we can be grateful that Any Other Way exists in 2017, and that Shane is with us to reclaim her recordings and celebrate her true voice past, present and future.

Pre-order Any Other Way.

Find me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

Correction: an earlier version of this story referred to Shane as having performed in drag, and said Shane is transgender. Shane wore both suits and more feminine clothing while performing — though did not perform in drag — and identifies as a woman living in a man's body.

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