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Nellie McKay

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. Those jazz or jazz-influenced pop artists tend to be romantically comforting, whereas McKay's lyrics can be every bit as cutting, edgy, and biting as Alanis Morissette or P!nk -- and to lump McKay in with Jones, Monheit, and Krall ignores the fact that her work is distinctive and impressively unorthodox. McKay, who is also a talented pianist, brings an unlikely combination of influences to her work, which isn't easy to categorize. The New York City resident is relevant to pop/rock, but she is also relevant to cabaret, traditional pop, and vocal jazz. Tin Pan Alley, Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Annie Ross, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holiday have affected her writing (either directly or indirectly), but so have Dory Previn and Randy Newman (the latter a frequent comparison), the Beatles, and hip-hop. McKay, in fact, shares Newman's penchant for lyrics that are cynical and sarcastic as well as dark-humored; like Newman, McKay knows how to laugh at the world even when she's complaining about how screwed up it is -- and she can be incredibly clever and witty. McKay was born in London, England, on April 13, 1984, but spent most of her early life in the United States. At the age of two, McKay (an only child) moved with her mother (actress Robin Pappas) to New York City -- and the two of them lived in Harlem until 1994, when they moved west to Olympia, Washington. After that, they lived in the Poconos in northeastern Pennsylvania, but in 2000, they returned to N.Y.C. so that McKay could attend the Manhattan School of Music. After dropping out, McKay briefly flirted with standup comedy but gave it up and made music her primary focus. McKay began performing around Manhattan in the early 2000s, and for a while she was managed by folk-rocker Lach (who often booked her at the Sidewalk Café in the East Village). McKay's gigs at Manhattan clubs like the Sidewalk Café and Fez earned her a small East Coast following, and in 2003, she signed with Columbia. Other labels had expressed interest, including Virgin and Blue Note, but she felt that Columbia had the greatest understanding of her musical vision. Nonetheless, McKay had some creative differences with the label; she wanted to call her debut album either Black America or Penis Envy, and Columbia disliked both. But eventually, McKay and Columbia agreed on the title Get Away from Me. Produced and engineered by Geoff Emerick -- best known for his work with the Beatles -- Get Away from Me was released in February 2004. Although it made the year-end lists of many critics, creative conflict between McKay and Columbia only continued. Sparring over producers and direction for her sophomore album eventually resulted in McKay financing the recordings herself; the result, titled Pretty Little Head, was due to be released in early 2006, but McKay was let go and the album was dropped from Columbia's release schedule. At the same time, McKay was busy rehearsing for a co-starring role in a Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera with Alan Cummings, Ana Gasteyer, and Cyndi Lauper. Pretty Little Head finally surfaced in October of 2006, released on McKay's own Hungry Mouse label and overseen by the indie spinART. Less than one year later, McKay returned with a 30-minute miniature entitled Obligatory Villagers. She also honored Doris Day with the 2009 project Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. McKay's fifth studio effort, Home Sweet Mobile Home, featuring production from her mother Robin Pappas and creative input from David Byrne, was released in September of 2010. McKay spent the next five years relatively quietly but she returned in 2015 with My Weekly Reader, a collection of covers of songs from the '60s. ~ Alex Henderson
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Stations Featuring
Nellie McKay

Albums by
Nellie McKay

Top Songs by
Nellie McKay

  1.   Song
  2.   The Big One
  3.   It's a Pose
  4.   Dispossessed
  5.   No Equality
  6.   Crazy Rhythm
  7.   The Dog Song
  8.   Respectable
  9.   ¡Bodega!
  10.   Poor People/Justice
  11.   Quicksilver Girl
  12.   If I Ever Had a Dream
  13.   Long & Lazy River
  14.   Absolute Elsewhere
  15.   I Will Be There
  16.   The Portal
  17.   Baby, You've Got What It Takes by Taj Mahal
  18.   Baby Watch Your Back
  19.   Politan
  20.   Pink Chandelier
  21.   The Dog Song
  22.   Lali Est Paresseux
  23.   Zombie
  24.   Itchycoo Park
  25.   Wild Romantic Blues
  26.   Just One Of Those Things
  27.   Happy Flower
  28.   Bruise on the Sky
  29.   Testify
  30.   Clonie
  31.   Real Life
  32.   David
  33.   Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine
  34.   Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter
  35.   Murder in My Heart for the Judge
  36.   Sunny Afternoon
  37.   Old Folks
  38.   Consada Blues
  39.   Bluebird
  40.   Wonderful Guy
  41.   The Very Thought of You
  42.   Dig It
  43.   Oversure
  44.   Mother of Pearl
  45.   Gin Rummy
  46.   Livin
  47.   Identity Theft
  48.   Galleon
  49.   Pasadena Girl
  50.   There You Are in Me
  51.   Gladd
  52.   We Had It Right by k.d. lang
  53.   Pounce
  54.   Old Enough
  55.   If I Needed Someone
  56.   Manhattan Avenue
  57.   Sari
  58.   Ding Dong
  59.   Waiter
  60.   I Wanna Get Married
  61.   Change the World
  62.   Toto Dies
  63.   Won't U Please B Nice
  64.   Inner Peace
  65.   Suitcase Song
  66.   Work Song
  67.   Really
  68.   Adios
  69.   BB Blues
  70.   I Remember You
  71.   Black Hills of Dakota
  72.   Mama & Me
  73.   Wooden Ships
  74.   Hungry Freaks, Daddy
  75.   Unknown Reggae
  76.   Please
  77.   Caribbean Time
  78.   Sentimental Journey
  79.   Meditation
  80.   Close Your Eyes
  81.   Face of a Faith
  82.   Yodel
  83.   Swept Away
  84.   Tipperary
  85.   The Down Low
  86.   If I Fell
  87.   Cupcake
  88.   Columbia Is Bleeding
  89.   Food
  90.   Black Sheep
  91.   Bold Marauder
  92.   Christmas Waltz
  93.   Red Rubber Ball
  94.   Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying
  95.   Do Do Do