Rumor Has It--EP (Sony? Columbia? Who knows!)
Those who have followed the very promising career of Nellie McKay since her brilliant debut, Get Away From Me in 2004 are likely to be in a funk. It was recently announced that Sony and McKay were parting ways. Not that news of a major label dumping one of its greatest talents should come as any surprise to anyone, but it does mean that her much anticipated follow-up, Pretty Little Head hangs in limbo. Fortunately, she's recorded six songs for Rob Reiner's film comedy "Rumor Has It" which have been released exclusively through iTunes. If the films notices are to be believed, this bomb should be coming to a video store near you. But fortunately, we have a taste to tide us over until Ms. McKay's legal issues are all worked out.
The selections on this six song release are charming and for the most part give only brief glimpses of her brilliance. Each track highlights her considerable skill at slipping in between genres and styles. The opening track, "Black Sheep" is a fine example of her consistently critical, provocative and skewed perspective with an odd rhythmic framework that swings through the middle section and smirks all the way through.
"BB Blues" is a gutbucket number with some heart-felt blues harp and a swaggering, world-weary vocal. "Pasadena Girl" has a mid-sixties spy-thriller vibe with whirling organ and twist-worthy groove that recalls "Baby Watch Your Back" from her debut disc. "Face of a Faith" is a somewhat bland ballad (for McKay) that is pepped up by the following track, "Baby, You've Got What It Takes", a spunky duet with Taj Mahal that saunters along in brassy style and has "closing credits" written all over it.
Interestingly enough, the standout track is one that McKay didn't write. Cole Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" is given a grand, straightforward reading at mid tempo. Bob Reynolds' tenor sax answers Nellie McKay's coy and highly personal vocal stylings. But it's her work as a pianist on this track that really opens the gates. She takes two 32 bar choruses that showcase her wonderful gift as an improviser. Her solo is relentlessly logical with beautifully fleshed-out ideas and damn near perfect thematic development. Her aggressive rhythmic stabs and ear for melody displays a rapidly growing maturity and an innate ability to interpret standard warhorses in a unique way. Her swing may need work, but she's got a solid right arm.
Though with one exception, these songs hardly represent the very best that Nellie McKay has to offer, but until the release of Pretty Little Head, this is what we have. The mind boggles at what's in store.