Nellie McKay does Doris Day
And yet that’s what this is. Yes, there’s a whimsy to the arrangements (nobody these days could sing the lyrics to “Send Me No Flowers” straight-faced), but there’s no winking or nudging. McKay clearly has a feel, and a love, for these songs and the sensibility they reflect.
A few weeks ago, my friend and Stereophile colleague Michael Fremer went to a Jazz At Lincoln Center “listening party,” marking the album’s release, and I think it’s fair to say we were both a bit smitten by her charms. With her wavy blonde hair, broad smile, and polite shyness (whether real or feigned), she seemed a throwback to the ‘30s or ‘40s, a character that Carole Lombard might have played in a screwball comedy.
Besides talking about the album, she sang a couple of the tunes live, accompanying herself on a ukulele—such a pure, lovely voice. She clearly has the chops for this sort of music.
The album’s mix churns her voice through a weird, though slight processing (which, as she clearly displayed at the party, was entirely unnecessary). Still, her singing is so strong, the effect detracts little, and the engineering otherwise (by the estimable James Farber) is impressive and palpable. (The CD and LP were both mastered from a digital file; the latter sounds better than the former but not by much.)
Besides singing, McKay, who’s 27, co-produced the album (with her mother, actress Robin Pappas), arranged all but two of the 13 tracks, and plays eight instruments, usually a few of them (overdubbed, of course) at once. In some ways, the most swaying tunes are those where she plays all the instruments on the track: piano, organ, bells, and tambora on “The Very Thought of You,” and ukulele, bells, and mellotron on “Send Me No Flowers.”
Very nice with brandy, or hot chocolate, on a cold winter night.