Nellie Mckay Pretty Little Head

A line from the song "My Mama & Me” just about sums up Nellie McKay: "never had Nintendo/saw a lot of Brecht though.” At times, she seems too precocious — the cute-as-a-button 20-something writes lyrics in support of gay marriage and against animal testing, makes a reference to Michael Moore ("the Big One”) and even raps about her troubled childhood (this is the album’s low point). Trite, maybe, but good songwriting is good songwriting, and McKay is something of a prodigy. A born performer (she recently made her Broadway debut), she also has a fantastic melodic sense and a knack for clever (if not a little embarrassing) lyrics. She draws from Carole King, Laura Nyro and Kate Bush as much as she does from vocal jazz and cabaret; she’s so talented, in fact, that she’s able to introduce any genre at any point and make it fit within the context of the album. Sure, she gets a little overzealous at times, and it leads to pitfalls like the aforementioned rap song, Hootie-esque adult contemporary moments or cutesy throwaway tracks like "Pounce.” But these are three examples out of a 23-song double disc. This is only her second release (her reluctance to whittle it into a smaller format resulted in her being dropped from former label Columbia), and there is hardly any filler — good songs seem to pour out of her. It’s a given that some will find her exuberance annoying or her songs too theatrical but it’s impossible to deny that she’s got it. (Fontana North)