Nellie McKay to Release 4th Album on October 13, “Normal As Blueberry Pie-A Tribute to Doris Day”
October is shaping up as quite the month for new record releases. The most exciting of which is the long overdue fourth album by singer/pianist/songwriter extraordinaire Nellie McKay. It is her tribute to the long out of the limelight, and now under appreciated, singer turned Hollywood virginal icon, Doris Day.
Ms. McKay will, of course, be supporting “Natural As Blueberry Pie – A Tribute to Doris Day” with live performances, including her third (or is it fourth?) appearance on “A Prairie Home Companion” (November 20 & 21) and a fourth visit to my own “Mt. Stage” on November 1.
While I have never been an overt fan of her 1960-ish movies even with their now oh-so-obvious gay subtexts — movies that a film critic friend said could have been directed by Luis Bunuel — I recently screened “Lover Come Back” after having just watched the first two seasons of “Mad Men” on DVD and found it a pleasing contrast. (I have been, however, a fan of the way Michael Gordon used the widescreen in “Pillow Talk.” And it is likely that I have never given those pictures their due as I am unable to get past Rock Hudson’s stick-still, wooden acting. He had greater effect in those subversive Sirk melodramas and his most expansive performance was in John Frankeheimer’s 1966 “Seconds.”)
As with her singing, I prefer Ms. Day’s earlier motion pictures, even those in a supporting role, such as “Young Man With a Horn.” How they ever got away with with its lesbianism at the time still amazes me.
While I will not go into her singing career, I will note that a ballad singing young-ish Doris Day remains a special treat. She’s in rare company with others such as June Christy, Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee.
Ms. McKay’s musical tribute should come as no real surprise to her fans as she has long been an unabashed Day fan, she reviewed a biography of her for The Times in 2007, and was granted one of the few — only? — interviews with her in several decades. Additionally, in 2005 Ms. McKay received the Doris Day Music Award in recognition of her support for animal rights for her song “The Dog Song.” And they both have an undying love for the Great American Songbook.
“Normal as Blueberry Pie” is on another new label, Verve. While Verve was one of the jazz labels in the 50’s & 60’s, it has been, in the recent past, been revived to include Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Bebel Gilberto, Melody Gardot, Linda Eder, artists that one might find a home here at “No Depression” such as Among the Oak & Ash, Elizabeth & the Catapult, The Brazilian Girls and John Fogerty, as well as keeping it’s jazz legacy intact with Coltrane, Armstrong and Fitzgerald.
In addition to her albums, Ms. McKay has provided original songs for three motion pictures: “Rumor Has It,” “Monster-inLaw” and “P.S. I Love You” where she had a small part, but in the final cut it was edited out. Plus, in 2007 she one-offed “Christmas Dirge,” a lament for not only the commercialization of that religious holiday but also for the continued, needless sacrifice of all those trees.
She was also in the critically acclaimed 2006 production of “The Threepenny Opera” with Alan Cumming and the also under appreciated Cyndi Lauper.
While I have not heard the new record — save for “The Very Thought of You” that can be heard on the NPR website under the August 24 edition of All Songs Considered — I have followed her career and her numerous radio appearances, including “Piano Jazz,” “Fresh Air,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” WXPN’s “World Cafe” and, yes, those three performances on the “Mt. Stage.”
Describing Ms. McKay to the uninitiated is extremely difficult. So much so that the music world does not know how to classify her, where to pigeon hole her, how to present her, much like like Judy Holliday was in Hollywood. Sometimes, well a lot of times, it may seem as though she’s going in a hundred different directions at once, unfocused. But, I find that it’s really that she has the ability to focus on so many different things, so many different directions at one time, and her songs, like parts of her interviews, can be like like light going through a prism. And once you get in tune with her, on her wavelength you marvel at all those spangling colors coming out of seemingly nowhere.
I think she would have been right at home at Warner Records in the 70’s with its eclectic roster, when intelligence, wit and intuitiveness were viewed as positive attributes, when Joe Boyd was head of A&R. But I will take an off the wall stab: imagine Cole Porter crossed with Randy Newman, Bob Dorough with a dash of Blossom Dearie.
Speaking of Newman, when she was touring in 2007 in support of her previous record “Obligatory Villagers” she began her APHC appearance with “Mother of Pearl.” Had it been Newman, the audience would have gotten it right away. But with McKay, there apparently was a disconnect so profound that the tension was obvious even when listening to the show. New Yorkers got it right away.
While her musical influences, talents and animal rights activism is well known, what is less publicized is how young girls are attracted to her. Last summer I saw Ms. McKay’s performance with a big band at Lincoln Center’s outdoor swing series, and after both sets, young girls crowded the edge of the stage. She patiently and eagerly engaged them in a dialogue. They were enthralled. This is change we can believe in.
Most of her NPR appearances are available for listening/downloading at is Music website, including a video of composing and recording. Additionally, you can check her out at her own website, MySpace & Facebook pages and YouTube.
A fav photo from the Obligatory Villagers’ sessions: