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Yes, it’s true: One of RuPaul’s girls has released a country album. That may not have been such a surprise to the fans who have seen Trixie Mattel sing live or who follow her Instagram, but the rest of us can go ahead and take a moment to pick ourselves up off the floor. Even more surprising, Mattel’s Two Birds (★★★★★) is really, really good. Not to cast any shade, but with a handful of exceptions, the musical output of Drag Race alumni could generously be described as uneven. Two Birds, with neither a hint of autotune nor a single joke about tucking, is an odd — and more than welcome — addition to the canon.
Not that it was ever a question of talent. Brian Firkus’ doll-like, heavily made-up drag persona has proven to be one of the more memorable queens from her season, and rightly so. Between her stint on the show, her live performances, and co-hosting the fantastically bizarre YouTube series UNHhhh with her Season 7 sister Katya, Trixie’s reputation as a comedy queen is clearly well-deserved.
Unexpectedly, however, Two Birds contains very little comedy. In fact, while Two Birds was released under the name Trixie Mattel, there are only hints of the drag queen we were introduced to on the show. “Mama Don’t Make Me Put On The Dress Again” is the only song that overtly nods to the Trixie Mattel we’ve come to know (“painted up in that makeup like a clown”), and even so, the track is more sweet than funny. Like some of the best folk and country, it walks the line between upbeat and sentimental, its poignant lyrics sung with a grin and set to an upbeat tune you could dance along to in a pair of cowboy boots.
Fantastic songwriting is the album’s other surprise. Two Birds is as much about Brian Firkus the songwriter as it is about Trixie Mattel the performer. At just seven tracks spread over 23 minutes, Two Birds is short, sweet, and perfectly balanced. The toe-tapping “Bluegrass” and the country radio-ready “Make Up Your Mind” fall right into place alongside two plaintive ballads: “I Know You All Over Again,” a heartwrencher of a breakup song, and “I’ll Wear Your Ring.” Including both the album version and stripped down live demo of “Seen My Man” on such a short record might seem like a strange choice, but both more than justify their inclusion. Throughout, Firkus’ songwriting is heartfelt without becoming too sappy, clever but not obnoxious, and manages to nod at camp several times with just the right amount of subtlety.
Reddit and Twitter were quick to jokingly christen Two Birds Trixie’s Joanne era — a tongue-in-cheek comparison that was probably inevitable, and one that her fans have rushed to beat into the ground. It’s probably for the best if it stays that way, too. Whatever you thought of Joanne, the albums’ similarities end at the cowboy hats on the cover. Trixie Mattel as folksy country singer might be new to most fans, but is not new to Trixie, who finds herself right at home in the genre, singing with all the confidence of a Wisconsinite who has been living and breathing country their entire life.
Despite the daylight between Trixie and Gaga, they might still have more in common with each other than what you might hear at the CMAs. A quick look at who got snubbed from the awards last year is enough to reveal that in country, as elsewhere, most of the interesting things are happening on the margins. And what could be more marginal to mainstream country than a drag queen strumming an autoharp?
Country music is a big tent, though, and despite the genre’s stereotypical reputation as a bastion of flyover country masculinity, this is 2017, and there is plenty of LGBTQ representation under that tent, if you care to look for it. Besides, if anyone thinks a drag queen’s aesthetic is incompatible with or somehow antithetical to country, well, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain would like a word. Still, it’s refreshing to hear a male voice sing so straightforwardly about gay romance over the twang of a steel guitar.
Two Birds is not just good for a Ru girl. It’s a legitimately enjoyable country album, one that can be listened to over and over again. Even if you’ve never been on the Drag Race wagon, you owe it to yourself to at least give Two Birds a spin. There are no prerequisites required, no irony-drenched inside jokes or ham-fisted references to the show. Just sincere, heartfelt songwriting that’s sure to pull on the heartstrings of any queer kid who grew up listening to country and never thought they would hear themselves in it.
Two Birds is available for purchase at Amazon.com and iTunes, and on Spotify and other streaming services.
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