Justin Vivian Bond: 'Dendrophile'

Justin Vivian Bond

Dendrophile (Whimsy Music)

As Kiki, the singing half of the subversive cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, Justin Bond created an indelible character: a boozy, bitchy, batty old nightclub entertainer, full of hilariously obscene tales and given to unexpectedly moving renditions of songs by everyone from Dan Fogelberg to Eminem. Now performing (and living) as Justin Vivian Bond—with a middle name added to reflect a transsexual identity—s/he has released a pretty terrific solo album.

A dendrophile is a lover of trees, and Bond—a fixture of New York and San Francisco over the past few decades—says many of these songs were composed during retreats to a haven in our own Tennessee mountains. There's even some Appalachian musical influence, in the banjo-driven "Equipoise" and in the way the seductive "Salome" lifts part of its melody from "Wayfaring Stranger." But Bond's diverse tastes also range to stormy jazz, piano pop, slinky soul, and a fine Joni Mitchell cover. A medley of the Carpenters' "Superstar" and Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" shows an undimmed genius for interpretation and interpolation, turning them into an eight-minute meditation on fame, desire, and regret. Also intact is the arch ribaldry that animated Kiki, in lines like "Heaven's in the palm of your hand/Reach in your pocket and stroke it." Even on the ostensibly elegiac "In the End," Bond can't resist the entendre in the title, quavering, "We all get it in the end"—as if we should all be so lucky. Overall, Dendrophile makes a strong case for Bond's singular talents. It is warm, angry, funny, and fierce.