Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 20, No. 45, Ed. 1 Friday, March 12, 2004 Page: 44 of 72
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Little Miss Smarty 'ants
Sassy and snarky, Nellie McKay reinvents cabaret
By Gilbert Garcia Pop Music Critic
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"Get Away from Me"
Like another certain
young female pianist,
Nellie McKay found her
way into major-label
recording after a career of
playing in Manhattan
nightclubs. And just like
upstart, McKay (rhymes with "pie") has a debut
release that takes traditional jazz for a pop excur-
sion. While it's debatable whether McKay's
album title is or isn't a subtle swipe at Nora
Jones' debut, "Come Away With Me," there's no
disputing that Nelly McKay's music is a far cry
from soft-jazz, and "Get Away From Me" is no
ready-for-VHl pop record.
Only 19 years old, McKay has already man-
aged to carve herself a niche in pop music.
Raised by an actress single mom, Nellie takes her
musical cues from cabaret and musical theater
rather than jazz standards or soft pop. Add to that
the incisive wit of a Randy Newman and the
cocksure ballsiness of a Bette Midler, and you
start to approach McKay's weird blend of jazz,
rock, and white-girl hip-hop. Rest assured, the
parental warning sticker on the cover of this
record is well deserved — the precocious teen
can be as foul-mouthed as she is self-assured.
Blessed with fresh-faced good
looks and a Doris Day smile,
McKay regularly plays up the con-
trast between her sweet image and
her anything but it-girl brashness.
With tongue firmly planted in
cheek, she pines for a "nice leave
it Beaverish golden retriever" and
a life spent reading Danielle Steele
novels on the silly and ironic "I Wanna Get
Married." The sarcastic June Cleaver routine gets
another round on "Won't TO Please B Nice,"
where she exhorts a somewhat reluctant spouse
to "salute the flag or I'll call you a fag."
When she wants to be, McKay can
also be quite charming and sin-
cere. "The Dog Song," which
McKay calls a valentine to her
pooch, is a goofy paean to the
virtues of adopting pound ani-
mals. On "Manhattan
Avenue," she finds a nostalgic
romanticism in a gritty urban-
scape cluttered with muggers and junkies. Just as
often, though, you're likely to hear one thing
coming out of McKay's mouth when she clearly
means its opposite.
With such a startling debut, it of course
remains to be seen whether McKay aims to sim-
ply continue with the same ironic joke, or
whether she has something more up her sleeve
Like a pistol-packing Mary Tyler Moore, Nellie McKay evokes the sirens of the '50s
and then disarms listeners with lacerating insight and abrupt profanity.
for her next album. Despite those worries, there's
no doubting that "Get Away from Me" is as
unique and well-executed an album as has been
released in recent memory. Nelly McKay has
made it, and like Sinatra said, she's made it her
way. In an industry that likes its woman dumb
and without opinions, McKay may just be the
smartest 19-year-old in music today.
Thz hfegtcjb tfou. Ozse-rw
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44 I dallasvoice.com I 03.12.04
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Vercher, Dennis. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 20, No. 45, Ed. 1 Friday, March 12, 2004, newspaper, March 12, 2004; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth238885/m1/44/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.