the last political song to stake a claim to a place in the Great American
Songbook was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” because an awful lot of people
were able to relate to it. To become a standard, a song should speak to universal
experiences and it doesn’t hurt to have a catchy melody. Unfortunately, the
latest installment of American Songbook at NJPAC featuring Nellie McKay is a bit of ringer that features mainly
originals that will appeal to a deliberately narrow audience when it premieres
this Wednesday on NJTV.
it happens, McKay’s set starts quite promising, showcasing her boppish chops on
the piano. Her forays into the Great American Songbook are largely
novelty-esque numbers, such as a nicely arranged “Knock on Wood” and “The
Gentleman is a Dope,” but they seem to suit her impish stage persona.
her originals, the up-tempo Latin-flavored love song “Bodega” is by far the
best, most in terms of musical interest and performance energy. However, the
politically motivated songs are more about the message than getting toes
tapping. Frankly, the supposedly ironic critique of feminism ostensibly
performed in Michelle Bachmann’s voice already sounds dated, since she is no
longer a member of congress. Likewise, “One’s on the Way,” dedicated to Planned
Parenthood, is more of an arrogant satire caricaturing twangy music and
barefoot-and-pregnant white trash.
is backed by some talented musicians and she seems to have a nice rapport with
them, so it is frustrating they are never credited. Unlike the Pizzarelli and
Osnes & Fontana episodes, we never hear McKay introduce the band. Most
likely this was an editing decision beyond her control, but it is still
aesthetically unappetizing for regular jazz and songbook listeners.
McKay must be an acquired taste for those who are already on her side of the
mountain. As a thespian, she never really made an impression in David Grubin’s Downtown Express and her best moments in
the NJPAC concert are at the keyboard or harmonizing with her band. More
standards also would have helped. They will be coming next week, when American Songbook at NJPAC gets back on
track with Maureen McGovern. For McKay fans, her concert premieres tomorrow
(2/11) on NJTV, with a later airdate scheduled for April 4th on WNET
(Photos: Daniel Cardenas/NJTV)
Labels: American Songbook at NJPAC, Great American Songbook, Nellie McKay