Nellie McKay
Get Away From Me


It was the end of August when it was suggested to me - by a couple of musicians whose opinion I definitely hold in high esteem - that I listen to Nellie McKay: a young singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who had released her first album in the USA not too long before. The fact that the album was on Sony told me I had missed their US media blitz; while the fact that the legendary and highly creative Geoff Emerick had been chosen (by McKay herself, it appears) to work on the album both as producer and engineer told me of a clear attitude towards quality. I had just taken a mental note about finding the album that I saw Nellie McKay on the cover of the Sunday Times Culture supplement, and, at about the same time, in many UK music mags; all being of the opinion that Get Away From Me (!) was excellent indeed.

Though it isn't very long - one hour or so - the album splits eighteen songs on two separate CDs, titled Side 1 and Side 2. This sounded quite bizarre to me - that is, until I listened to the album, whose first four tracks comprise: a fresh sing-along with an interesting bridge (David); a "classy 40s jazz piano ballad" (Manhattan Avenue); a rap track a bit reminiscent of Eminem (Sari); a complex song that seems to come straight off a musical (Ding Dong). This variety is maintained for the full length of the CD, offering "symphonic disco pop" (Waiter), bossa nova (Suitcase Song), a light 60s song (Clonie), still more songs off musicals (Won't U Please B Nice) and so on, at first creating a sense of puzzlement about this artist's "true identity". So it's only logical to me that the pause implicit in the (physical) ending of each CD was chosen.

As expected, Emerick has done an excellent job, making even the denser orchestrations (all arrangements are by Nellie McKay) sound clear and logical. Emerick has also dressed each song with the right timbres (and spatial placement), giving each track the right dimension and complementing McKay's ever-changing vocal approach (I'd strongly suggest this album as required listening to all who have forgotten - or maybe they've never known - what working on a song album really means). An excellent singer, Nellie McKay proves herself to be a nice instrumentalist on piano, organ, synthesizer and mallet instruments (listen to her fine vibes solo on Baby Watch Your Back). She sounds perfectly at ease with all the musical genres she plays, so revealing a long musical practice.

So it's all right? Well, there are a lot of fine points, so one can easily forget the main point of many marketing campaigns: her being of a very young age. So one can listen to - and enjoy - Get Away From Me even if one ignores that Nellie McKay is just twenty years old. Those who love the aforementioned styles (and no, being forty-something is not required) will find loving this album quite easy. I'm not so sure about other matters. With its vivacious violin, It's A Pose proceeds with much brio, but it'll maybe sound a bit strange, not coming from a Broadway show. The letter-perfect I Wanna Get Married didn't seem to stand well after repeated listenings, when the irony didn't bite any more - such seems to be the case with the already mentioned Won't U Please B Nice and with the closing track, Really. (A propos of irony: what about a line that goes "Should've signed with Verve instead of Sony"?)

An incredibly talented, original personality, Nellie McKay has released a very good album, not the masterpiece some have written about. I'm curious about what the future holds in store, and especially about whether she will change her attitude about singing "in character". Meanwhile, Get Away From Me can be a good company.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004 | Oct. 11, 2004