Jackie Shane is a bawdy badass.
For more than five minutes in the middle of a cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” Jackie Shane veers into a rambling monologue, one that ultimately serves as the heart and soul of Any Other Way, Numero Group’s compilation of the forgotten Toronto soul singer’s recorded material. She talks about her money, how she spends it, what she did on her vacation, how her shows are the closest to God anyone in the audience will ever get, how people point at her and whisper when she walks down the street, how if they ever stopped she’d look in the mirror and wonder if she’d put her mascara on wrong. And she underlines her precisely-worded personal slogan, which she’ll reiterate later in the set: as long as you don’t force your will and your way on anybody else, live your life.
Shane begins the monologue as a ripshit-good soul singer and ends it as someone we’ve come to know and love. The music collected here, mostly from 1963 studio recordings and a 1967 club concert, is great but no revelation. She’s an electrifying vocalist and performer, but her covers are tried-and-true. She’s also clearly in thrall to James Brown, who was just then emerging as a significant star. The music is secondary to Jackie Shane herself, who’s one of the funniest, most likable people you could possibly have the pleasure of meeting on record. She’s a bawdy badass, bragging about her fancy clothes and fine French perfumes, projecting an unmistakably queer air of defiance where every chest-puff flips the bird to the world.
Shane, now retired and reclusive at 77, is a trans woman. Her audience didn’t know that at the time. She presented as a gay man in drag (“I’m a man!,” she screams on “Stand Up Straight and Tall”), but she still sings mostly about women while slipping in sly Easter eggs for her queer fans. The most obvious is the line “tell her I’m gay” on the title track (which she prefaces on the live version with “be sure to tell her this!,” in case you didn’t get the gag). But most of the gags are sneakier. She uses the gay slang “chicken” for a young man incessantly; before Stonewall let alone Google, it’d be hard for her straight fans to figure out what she was talking about. During another rant on “You Are My Sunshine,” she rhapsodizes about “the only woman I’ve ever loved,” and given all the sex talk on the rest of the album, we understand that by no means indicates “only person.”
Artists had to be creative with their sex talk in those days of voracious censorship, which led to more exciting songwriting because of the extra step the audience had to take between hearing the line and understanding what it meant. With Shane, the code is even more muddied because she has to be only a little bit sexual and a little bit queer so the beefy-sounding announcer who interrupts a few of these songs doesn’t shove her offstage. That’s the most poignant takeaway from Any Other Way. All the veiled language just reminds us how hermetic the queer community had to be in the ‘60s, and we understand far more of what she’s talking about than her audience did. Shane was lucky in that she had a supportive family and was able to make a career in Canada after leaving her home in the Jim Crow South. But what a pickle it is to be queer and visible.
The live recordings take up the overwhelming bulk of Any Other Way, and they’re the best stuff here. Her studio recordings are good, but lack the same winning personality; what we’ve really got here is a solid 28-minute soul album paired with a morass of live material. The best of these live recordings can be found on her 1967 album Live!, which is easy to stream, and are more easily enjoyed there because the crowd noise is left mostly untouched and the songs don’t cut off so abruptly. This is the easiest route for Shane fans who want to hold a copy of her work in her hands, but more streaming-oriented music listeners would be better off seeking out Live! and copying the first 12 songs of Any Other Way into a playlist. Still, this compilation means she’s getting more press than ever—and she deserves as much of it as she can get. She’s the real deal.