Nellie McKay Revisits 1960s Songs

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Nellie CDNellie McKay
My Weekly Reader
(429/Savoy Jazz)
In A Word: Über-Charming

Broadway musical actress and singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist as well as former comedian McKay provides the perfect contemporaneous ameliorative for Diana Krall’s Wallflower collection of classic rock and pop numbers for “adult” fans of that music rendered as smarmy wine and cheese soundtrack music for a hot yuppie seduction session on the Ikea sofa. Then again, this listener is an immediate sucker for any artist from the younger generation who covers “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks (accenting its English music hall origins with rollicking upright piano) or The Small Faces’ “Itchykoo Park” with the blissful narcotic bounce of its original.

Or for that matter, how can anyone who came of musical age with the 1960s San Francisco psychedelic scene not be enchanted by again hearing Steve Miller Band’s “Quicksilver Girl” (done with mesmeric minimalism), Country Joe’s “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” (as stoner pop-rock) and Moby Grape’s “Murder In My Heart For The Judge” as a stinging mid-tempo rocker laced with rolling banjo (by Bela Fleck) that becomes subtle SDS-style agitprop in its extended outro?

British Invasion buff? Check out how McKay buoys “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (Herman’s Hermits) on a gentle bed of ukulele and marimba or her lean and seductive take on “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” (Gerry and the Pacemakers). And how can you not be charmed by a lass who not only knows former Animal Alan Price’s minor masterpiece O Lucky Man! but medleys his “Poor People” done chamber show-music style into the Afro-Caribbean lilt of “Justice”?

McKay’s pliable voice has just the right light-powdered sugar coating of cute yet enough oomph to sing “bloviated turd” with the snap it requires, and oodles of winning personality that make each track a vivid vocal mini-movie. The arrangements abound with imagination, wit and daring as well as smart restraint. What singer-songwriter type would even attempt Frank Zappa’s “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and make it a carnival freak show all her own or just play Lennon/McCartney’s “If I Fell” rather straight and make you swoon? (Longtime Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick is her co-producer and partner in crimes of delight.)

Every track here is a winner: Richard Farina’s “Bold Marauder” becomes a bright Celtic reel interwoven with strains of art-rock, and the Paul Simon co-written pop hit “Red Rubber Ball” is Dylanesque folk chomping on a tasty wad of bubblegum. After she finishes up with a solemn yet airy reading of “Wooden Ships” you just want to spin this disc all over again, as it’s nigh-on-impossible not to be utterly enchanted with this glowing gem of an album.

Rob Patterson
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  1. Heavenleeleo
    #1 Heavenleeleo 29 November, 2015, 14:38

    Does anyone know if the Nellie has compiled her old school duets to one album?

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