Nellie McKay’s “Normal As Blueberry Pie-A Tribute to Doris Day” on NPR Music
Nellie McKay’s Love Letter To Doris Day
“Doris Day is an emblem of sunshine, communion with nature and animals, and common civility… In a time when cynicism rules, her eager humanity is ever more precious…”
– Nellie McKay, The New York Times Book Review
While Nellie McKay’s new album, Normal as Blueberry Pie, comes out October 13, it is available for listening on the NPR Music website.
The album, on Verve, will also be available on vinyl and purchasers of the Barnes & Noble edition of the CD will get an extra tack, “I Want to Be Happy.”
From the NPR site:
October 6, 2009 – When I heard that Nellie McKay was making a record paying tribute to Doris Day, I thought, “Perfect.” I spent some time with McKay here at NPR, as she wrote and produced an original tune for our series Project Song, and I can honestly say that she’s from another time. Doris Day and the ’50s seems just about right.
Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day is an album free of cynicism, full of heart and more elegant than a mere nostalgia trip. McKay chose from more than 600 of Day’s recordings for her tribute. Many of these songs are part of The Great American Songbook: “Sentimental Journey,” “I Remember You,” “The Very Thought of You” and so on. Songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Burt Bacharach and Les Brown, as well as an original — a small curtsy to Doris Day, written by McKay, called “If I Ever Had a Dream.”
What surprised me over and over again, hearing this record for the first time, was how fresh it sounded; how the spare and creative arrangements kept these songs from turning into background music. What didn’t surprise me is how beautifully rich McKay’s voice sounds as she fills these tunes with the sun and warmth they deserve.
And now a few words from one of the deans of popular music criticism, Robert Christgau:
Eccentric singer-songwriter Nellie McKay’s new tribute to Doris Day is heartfelt and convincing.
What could notoriously eccentric young New York singer-songwriter Nellie McKay have in common with notoriously normal Hollywood icon Doris Day? The comparison only begins with McKay’s new album, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day.
McKay first declared her love of Doris Day in a 2007 book review she wrote for The New York Times. McKay wrote of the exemplary pop singer, whose wholesome persona made her Hollywood’s biggest female draw: “Her music is uncluttered, sensual and free, driven by an irrepressible will to live.”
McKay’s Normal as Blueberry Pie is the fourth album of a contentious career that has also included an award-winning role in Brecht-Weill’s Threepenny Opera and much outspoken animal-welfare activism, a cause she shares with Doris Day. McKay is a feminist who isn’t shy about using that particular F-word, a wisenheimer who’s done stand-up, a prima donna who fought her label to squeeze 23 new songs onto a CD instead of just 16. In 2005, I saw her perform half a dozen non-English titles she’d composed, including “Me Gusta Manana,” about trying to go vegan in Spain. So it seems strange that her first album in two years comprises 12 Doris Day covers plus one original, and that it’s jazzier than either her history or Day’s would lead listeners to expect.
But while Normal as Blueberry Pie wouldn’t be a Nellie McKay album if it weren’t a little kooky, McKay’s arrangements find a graceful midpoint between her postmodern cabaret and Day’s popped-up big-band singer with chops for miles. It emphasizes the purity McKay’s voice shares with Day’s. It, too, is uncluttered, sensual and free.
As it happens, the first record I ever bought was Doris Day’s Secret Love, which went No. 1 when I was 11. Nevertheless, my copy of Day’s Golden Girl was in storage when Normal as Blueberry Pie came my way. My tribute to McKay is that her tribute has me convinced.