As a part of a new series, Say It With Song, Nellie McKay sold out the first of two evening events at the atmospheric Mansion at Strathmore on Thursday, January 9th. She is a prolific jazz singer and songwriter, as well as a former standup comedian. An award-winning American musical comedy star and caberet singer, Nellie displayed her mastery of different genres, from jazz to rap and disco to honkytonk. Her appreciative audience seemed to endorse her progressive politics and laughed at the juxtaposition of topics and styles. Nellie writes in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg, the British troubadour, using her music to highlight issues she cares about, including the death penalty, animal rights, and feminist concerns. She was more evocative on the ukelele with wit and a sweet, soulful sound reminiscent of cabaret legend Blossom Dearie.
Starting out with the familiar “Sentimental Journey,” which Ms. NcKay reported came from her Death Row musical review (also known as I Want To Live) she segwayed into “Pennies from Heaven.” She went on to dedicate “Lazy River to Your Soul” to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and then followed it with a tangent “If I Had You” on the ukelele which was droll and fun. Next illegal immigration was highlighted with the songs ” Don’t Fence Me In.” and “I Cover the Waterfront.” The pesticide poisoning that Rachel Carson deplored was sent up with “Hi Li Li Hi Lo.” Air pollution was not slighted, represented by “Midnight Sun” It was clear she was in no danger of running out of material, or issues. She excelled in sudden changes of style and rhythm and was able to switch from soprano to falsetto to spoken word in such a way that we were continually surprised and attentive.
Nelle McKay is a renaissance woman who has recorded music for the Grammy-winning Boardwalk Empire soundtrack album and contributed to songs to the Emmy-winning documentary Gasland. McKay has appeared on numerous TV shows and her music has been heard on Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Privileged, Mad Men and Nurse Jackie. McKay has performed a one-woman show about pioneer environmentalist Rachel Carson, It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature, as well as last year’s I Want to Live!, about Barbara Graham, the third woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin. She is a recipient of The Humane Society’s Doris Day Music Award in recognition of her dedication to animal rights. Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Nellie McKay’s website.