Sweet As Pie
By: Steve LaBate
Nellie McKay’s gorgeously understated new album, Normal As Blueberry Pie, is everything a tribute record should be. McKay shows a genuine love and respect for her subject, not to mention a seemingly intuitive understanding of the long-forgotten appeal of singer/actress Doris Day—who, over the years, has become synonymous with the stodgy, overly sentimental schmaltz of the irony-free era from which she came, an era that seems to lie across the chasm of history, out of our reach. Backed by some fantastically talented jazz musicians, McKay bridges this gap, breathing life into Day’s out-of-vogue material; giving old standards a new sense of purpose that transcends nostalgia and makes them feel at home in the modern world. She tackles both popular and obscure Day-delivered numbers—written by legends like George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Johnny Mercer, and Antonio Carlos Jobim—with an endearing earnestness, a hushed grace, and a blustery voice that’s like a crisp autumn wind rustling the last brightly colored leaves from the trees in Central Park. It’s the freshest these songs have sounded in years
Pie In The Sky
By: Matt Fink
Nellie McKay’s appeal revolves around the perceived subversive edge that casts her silliest quirks as potentially insubordinate acts—in that context, it’s a dangerous move to make an album free of satirical camp. Normal As Blueberry Pie, then, might be the most daring album McKay has made. Her devotion to the Doris Day catalog is unquestionable, and her attempt to recreate the original aura of those recordings leaves no room for any suspicion that she’s lampooning the very era of American innocence and wholesome optimism that she’s used as contrast to her cute-yet-caustic persona. Unfortunately, the album also leaves little room for her 1000-watt personality, and the result is a classy but conceptually stilted set of renditions, imaginatively redrawn and dutifully performed but otherwise lacking anything that would make McKay’s versions more than entry points for further excavation. Lovingly redundant, it’s a vanity project that allows McKay to prove her skills as an interpreter while handicapping the biting wit and unpredictable energy that made her so special in the first place.