Nellie McKay has protest on her mind, but don't expect an earnest folkie on guitar. In "Pretty Little Head," this brilliant wordsmith adorns her social activism' from gay marriage to animal rights' in ribbons of cabaret, show tunes, cocktail-lounge jazz and even the occasional bow of hip-hop.
More akin to early Randy Newman than Joan Baez, McKay tackles her issues with razor-sharp wit and breathtaking songwriting.
"Pretty Little Head" spurred a parting of ways between McKay and her former label, Columbia, after that company balked at her proposed two-disc release (never mind that her 2004 debut on Columbia, "Get Away from Me," was equally jam-packed). McKay's stubbornness now seems misplaced. Subsequently released on an indie label, "Pretty Little Head" probably could have withstood a little paring down.
But why quibble? "Pretty Little Head" is inventive, intelligent, engaging, sly and, most importantly, a lot of wonderful music.
- Phil Bacharach