Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nelli McKay

Nellie McKay:


"Her music has showcased different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to funk. Her eclectic style and sharp lyrics distinguish her as an original voice. Her songs sometimes have a political tinge; she is a vocal feminist, and wrote a satirical song relating to feminist issues called "Mother of Pearl". McKay also "is a proud member of PETA" (album notes), wrote a song ("Columbia Is Bleeding") dealing with the issue of Columbia University's cruelty to animals, and ("John John") about her feelings in favor of political candidate Ralph Nader as well as performing concerts as benefits for WBAI."

Ed here: Since Patti Abbott posted about music today--and since I've already run my mouth about rap and the Toby Keith school of country music (give me Hank Snow any day)--I thought I'd mention one of my favorite very talented and amusing singers.

Like most human beings I get tired of most songs after I hear them sixty or seventy times on the radio. As fetching as Norah Jones' Come Away With Me CD was I o'd on it because it was on the rock-jazz-elevator schedules for months. When I read that a smart young singer had written an album called Get Away From Me in response I had to hear it (remember, Married With Children's cynicism was created in direct response to the Cosby show's treacle).

Get Away From Me made me a fan. The lyrics are hilarious. The jibes at former boyfriends, the lyricism of the music one moment morphing into a show tune the next...fantastic. I've seen her interviewed maybe a dozen times. She's quite fetching and knows it. She overplays a bit now and then but she'll redeem it with a sarcastic response a few minutes later. Her most annoying habit, to me, is this breathy little girl voice she uses between songs on large stages. But she is quite quite fetching and she seems to be a genuine pop music scholar, pop of the Twenties and Thirties and Forties as well as today.

The CDs subsequent to Get Away From Me haven't done as well. Get Away was a Columbia product following which she had a battle with the suits as to how many tracks she'd be allowed on her next album. She went to a jazz label next and now she's at another jazz label. Back in 06 or so I thought she was going to be a major headliner. She's got the voice and the moves and the looks. She's funny as hell and she is in all ways an original.

I tuned in Prairie Home Companion (a show I don't much care for) just to hear her live. She did material from her her CD which covers Doris Day songs from the 1940s to the 1960s. It's a sensational album and I hope it outsells Get Away. Doris Day, so many people forget, was a first-rate big band singer before she ever went to Hwood. I hope Ms. Day likes her tribute album as much as I--and many critics--do.


mybillcrider said...

Thanks for the tip, Ed. I like Doris Day's vocal work quite a bit, and I'm listening to the McCay CD right now.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have an early Doris Day CD and she was outstanding. Her husband, a tyrant, goosed up her style later and did her no favors, I think,

Anonymous said...

How can you beat Sentimental Journey? She's still enjoying life in Carmel, probably the last of the Big Band singers.

JJ Stickney said...

Last week Nellie was interviewed on WCPN our local NPR station Around Noon program and performed live. Here's the link:

I think McKay has been ill served by her label - her first national tour was with some Emo rock band.

Ed Gorman said...

I agree JJ but it seems she's never ben with a handler who could figure out how to pitch her to the public. She should be selling many more CDs and appearing in bigger spots than she is right now. She's sure got the stuff for the big time.

Todd Mason said...

She's too distinctive and prickly...she wouldn't agree with Keillor on her songlist on her first PHC appearance, either. And her supposed friendly critics, such as Robert Christgau on NPR, are "startled" by her doing a Doris Day tribute album (demonstrating a cluelessness about her work and esthetic...I'm waiting for him to "joke" about her perhaps taking up the ukulele next [an instrument she's been playing for years]).

The breathy voice might be an affectation, but she does rather consistently use it in public. Sounds pretty natural compared to her singing voice.

Todd Mason said...

But, of course, I knew that various acts could be Big Time, but most of them had to soften their work somehow (the Bangles) to get the suits to get behind them, or (Jawbox, Husker Du, Sweet Baby fka Sweet Baby Jesus) they'd tend to be just thrown out on the market w/o any support to speak of.