The week that Columbia Records dropped Nellie McKay over creative disagreements regarding her second album, the headstrong young singer-songwriter released a satirical statement promising to continue to make irritating music which will baffle and enrage.
Nearly two years later, McKays Pretty Little Head is finally seeing the light of day, thanks to her own label, Hungry Mouse Records, and the indie spinArt Records.
While the 23-track double disc may have baffled and/or enraged Columbia executives they reportedly wouldve preferred a 16-track single disc, among other things it should satisfy fans of McKays sparkling 2004 debut, Get Away From Me.
Which doesnt mean the label wasnt at least partly right.
The album shares many fine qualities with its justly lauded predecessor. The precocious 22-year-old New York native continues to successfully combine genres with wild-eyed abandon cabaret-ggae anyone? McKay (pronounced mack-eye) has chosen two great duet partners in k.d. lang and Cyndi Lauper, her costar in last years Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera.
Her wry mezzo is in great shape as she croons clever lyrics that are by turns arch and vulnerable, in styles as diverse as rap and bossa nova. And her playing on the piano and a variety of other instruments including cello and synthesizers is top-notch. But Pretty Little Head could stand to have a few inches trimmed off the bottom.
A couple of cuts sound a little underbaked, like the fast talking There You Are in Me, or downright silly, including the 56-second ditty about kitties, Pounce. (Of course there was a delightful song about walking her dog on the first record, so maybe this is just an equal-time issue for the politically minded chanteuse.) And there might be one too many tunes that could be described as jaunty.
Otherwise current fans and newcomers should enjoy the way that McKay trips with assured but light steps from the lilting, playful Yodel to the harder rock of The Big One which turns an angry eye on the gentrification of her childhood Harlem neighborhood to the languid torch phrasing of Long & Lazy River to the sassy and loving raps of Mama & Me.
One Columbia that likely will be enraged by the record is the university. Animal rights activist McKay takes aim at the New York school for scientific testing done in its labs on the seething but singable Columbia Is Bleeding.
Even though it has a bit of extra padding, Pretty Little Head is the sound of an artist willing to go her own way with the good ideas that fill hers.