Nellie McKay (pronounced Mc-EYE) appeared almost out of nowhere in early 2004, after a handful of live performances in New York City. The young singer-songwriter had signed to Columbia and released Get Away From Me -- 19 tracks issued as a double CD at her insistence. It didn't hurt that the album's producer was Geoff Emerick, whose credits include engineering records for the Beatles and producing Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom.
McKay loosely, in fact very loosely, fits under the banner of cabaret, but she takes her voice and piano to places many habituates of the scene wouldn't own a map for. It's often remarked that McKay comparisons range far and wide, and they do, mainly because she's built herself such a wide camp that she's hard to peg. Of course, that stands as a challenge to writers who can't decide if she's the redheaded female Eminem or the punk Bobby Short.
No matter. While Get Away (titled affectionately -- or not -- as a slap at Norah Jones's Come Away With Me) covers more ground than most artists manage in three or four releases, McKay is gifted enough to make it all seem easy and natural. In her world, the personal is political, the political personal. At this writing, her sales hadn't yet touched Jones's numbers, but even a couple of million units isn't hard to imagine. Bubbly and tough and funny, McKay sometimes seems to engender those comparisons because like, oh say, Costello or even Judy Holliday before her, she's making something very new out of the old cloth she's been handed.