Colorful Jazz Pop Singer Nellie McKay to Play Intimate Concert This Week in Northern Kentucky

The renegade vocalist — who showcases elegant, slow-burn versions of several standards on her latest album, 'Sister Orchid' — plays Newport's York Street Cafe this Thursday, April 18

click to enlarge Nellie McKay - Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez
Nellie McKay
Nellie McKay’s charmingly offbeat sense of humor was evident right from the start of her recording career. Her acclaimed 2004 debut album — recorded with former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick (who worked on Revolver and Abbey Road) — was titled Get Away from Me, a play on the breakthrough hit from another jazzy Pop artist, Norah Jones, who’d released her Come Away from Me two years prior.

Though it can sometimes be endearingly quirky, McKay’s music is no joke. A trained Jazz vocalist, her Pop-centric debut — boldly, a double album — was full of hooky melodies and a slanted songwriting style that produced tracks like the carnivalesque “Sari” (which includes lyrically comical rapping on the verses) and the chiming Pop song “Ding Dong.”

Pretty Little Head, McKay’s sophomore effort, resulted in a falling out with Columbia Records, which reportedly was insisting the release be cut down to a single disc. After leaving the label, it was put out as intended (another double album) by SpinArt, though the Indie Pop label folded a few months after the album was released. Whether it was serendipity or schadenfreude, the album was then picked up for distribution by Sony, Columbia’s parent company.

Though widely praised for her writing, McKay eventually shifted back to her Jazz roots and began showcasing her skills as a song interpreter on 2009’s Normal as Blueberry Pie, a tribute to the recorded songs of singer/actress (and native Cincinnatian) Doris Day, which was released on esteemed Jazz label Verve Records and peaked at No. 5 on the Jazz charts. She returned to her diverse musical stylings (and working with Emerick) on 2015’s My Weekly Reader, which consisted of covers of songs from the ’60s, including work by Frank Zappa, Moby Grape, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Kinks.

McKay’s latest album, last year’s Sister Orchid, is a beautiful slice of elegant Jazz balladry. The album features relatively straightforward, slow-burn takes on several standards, backed primarily by only a piano on numbers like “My Romance,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “In a Sentimental Mood,” though she whips out her ukulele for a dreamily jaunty version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazybones.”


McKay performs an intimate "An Evening With…" concert Thursday, April 18 at Newport's York Street Cafe. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. The show is open to all ages. Click here for tickets/more show info.

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