Justin Vivian Bond is undeniably an artist in transformation. Until 2008, Bond was most famous for performances in the cabaret/performance art duo Kiki and Herb, as an aging, bitter alcoholic lounge singer doomed to an eternity strung out on the comeback trail. (YouTube still has their unforgettable version of Bonnie Tyler's—and W.B. Yeats'?—weepie, "Total Eclipse of the Heart.") The gig took Bond and collaborator Kenny Mellman from obscure San Francisco dives to gigs on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall.
To say the least, there have been some changes made. The transgender singer and songwriter has jettisoned that caustic, comic—but ultimately constrictive—stage persona in pursuit of a radically different, and ultimately more personal, common ground between the sexes. Bond's new CD, Dendrophile, mixes originals with covers including Bambi Lake's "The Golden Age of Hustlers" and Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark." If the CD's title invokes people who get a sexual charge out of the natural world, it also references a fundamental, biological fact: Throughout their life cycle, almost all flowering plants are hermaphroditic, bisexual and/or transitional in gender. Once again, Mother Nature shows the way. —Byron Woods