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Pretty Little Head

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Album Review

Pretty Little Head, the Nellie McKay record that Columbia refused to release in early 2006, is remarkably similar to Get Away from Me, the record it released to wide acclaim in 2003. Like McKay's debut, it's a two-disc album packed with brash wordplay, passionate causes, and a diverting variety of New York music locales, from the Brill Building to Cafe Carlyle to the South Bronx. If it sacrifices some of the humor and precocious flair of her debut in favor of more social criticism, it's still a very entertaining and occasionally beautiful album that allows space for McKay's continuum of emotions, from gleeful to melancholy to furious. Beginning with a cheerleading tribute to gay marriage ("Cupcake"), she deftly interposes songs on activism, romance, and fun — not all of which are identifiable at first blush. A key part of her charm is that few of her activist songs are dour or academic (although a song about food, and titled "Food," is the most delightful song on the record). McKay, who sits in the production chair, sounds as musically astute as her predecessor Geoff Emerick (a large feat), and her band, resourceful and economical, again functions as an excellent vehicle for her eccentric songwriting. As on her debut, no songs are obvious highlights, although they're all good or great. In the bitter relationship song "There You Are in Me," McKay prefaces the title with "Everyone you meet secures a wretched seat within your memory/Wipe their filthy feet upon the yearning of your soul," but sings it with such energy and insistency that it doesn't sound maudlin or depressing. "The Big One" may make commercialism sound as terrifying as apocalypse, but "Columbia Is Bleeding" (about allegations of animal cruelty at Columbia University) is a quietly bewitching song quite apart from its subject matter. Although she may not strain for the humor of her first album, she summons a quiet beauty that's new for the elegy "Gladd" (which honors peace activist Gladd Patterson). Pretty Little Head sounds like a record from a woman coming out of girlhood — more confident, more wise about love, and more focused about her concerns, if no less passionate.

Customer Reviews

Great album, but...

...this version is not the complete album. The album is actually 23 songs long. This 16-track sequence was the edited track list that the label came up with after dismissing McKay's original plan of including all 23. I wonder how this version ended up on iTunes. This is a wonderful album. Check it it's full format.

Agreeing with Howard

I love this album (in my opinion Nellie's definitive album) and I'm sort of baffled by this. Apparently Sony discontinued the Black Dove release after she finally signed with Verve instead of Sony... and is only making it available as a download. But if that's the case, why counter-intuitavely offer less??? It's interesting to finally see the version Sony wanted to release (it ends with Tipperary???) but it's sorta crazy not to offer some of the best songs: Old Enough, Mama & Me and Food are just now rarities? I gave the album five stars but the best way to buy it now is to find a used version of the CD. Would it kill Sony to offer the entire album? Bad business...

The Whole Enchilada

N.M. deserves a lot of credit for sticking to her guns, & opting to release this album on a private label, in its entirety, as she meant it to be yes, all the more disappointing that iTunes has the abridged version--tho last time I checked, they didn't offer it at all, so the glass is considerably more full than empty. But certainly fans should indeed make the effort to track down the whole enchilada--23 tracks may seem like a lot for an album, but many of them are quite short (tho still pithy), & the flow of the album is actually quite well-constructed. I was blown away by the debut album (1 of the most auspicious in quite some time, I think), & I admit that when I 1st heard this 1, there was as much "hmm..." as "YEAH!" --it's more sparsely arranged than its predecessor, more "chamber-pop," & some trax seem a bit long on quirkiness--but I warmed to it during subsequent listens, & continue to, even now. Myself, I could live w/o "My Mother & Me," but in some ways, it's the centerpiece of the album, & proves that Nellie can still spin out a rap, for those who care (I got a kick out of her doing it on the 1st album, but she doesn't need to keep doing it, for me). Definitely a prodigious talent, who shouldn't be 2nd-guessed by record companies.


Born: April 13, 1982 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Get Away from Me, the title of singer/songwriter Nellie McKay's debut album, was a play on two titles by romantic female vocalists who became popular in the early 2000s: Norah Jones' Come Away with Me and Jane Monheit's Come Dream with Me. But while McKay shares some of Jones' and Monheit's influences -- vocal jazz, cabaret, pre-rock Brill Building pop, torch singing -- and has some things in common with them melodically, it would be a huge mistake to lump her in with Jones, Monheit, and Diana Krall....
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Pretty Little Head, Nellie McKay
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