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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.   Sari
  4.   It's a Pose
  5.   If I Needed Someone
  6.   Crazy Rhythm
  7.   Dispossessed
  8.   No Equality
  9.   Columbia Is Bleeding
  10.   Red Rubber Ball
  11.   P.S. I Love You
  12.   Face of a Faith
  13.   Gladd
  14.   Tipperary
  15.   Old Enough
  16.   Mother of Pearl
  17.   I Will Be There
  18.   The Down Low
  19.   Wooden Ships
  20.   Swept Away
  21.   David
  22.   Unknown Reggae
  23.   The Portal
  24.   Beneath the Underdog
  25.   Meditation
  26.   Do Do Do
  27.   Dig It
  28.   Black Hills of Dakota
  29.   Gin Rummy
  30.   Yodel
  31.   G.E.S.
  32.   We Had It Right by k.d. lang
  33.   Pounce
  34.   The Dog Song
  35.   I Wanna Get Married
  36.   Waiter
  37.   Manhattan Avenue
  38.   Itchycoo Park
  39.   Quicksilver Girl
  40.   Happy Flower
  41.   Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying
  42.   Just One Of Those Things
  43.   Baby, You've Got What It Takes by Taj Mahal
  44.   Ding Dong
  45.   If I Fell
  46.   Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter
  47.   Bold Marauder
  48.   Murder in My Heart for the Judge
  49.   Poor People/Justice
  50.   Sunny Afternoon
  51.   Old Folks
  52.   Wild Romantic Blues
  53.   Please
  54.   Consada Blues
  55.   Adios
  56.   Absolute Elsewhere
  57.   The Very Thought of You
  58.   Send Me No Flowers
  59.   Mean to Me
  60.   I Remember You
  61.   Close Your Eyes
  62.   Oversure
  63.   Livin
  64.   Identity Theft
  65.   Galleon
  66.   Politan
  67.   Testify
  68.   Zombie
  69.   BB Blues
  70.   Black Sheep
  71.   Pink Chandelier
  72.   There You Are in Me
  73.   I Am Nothing
  74.   Real Life
  75.   Mama & Me
  76.   Baby Watch Your Back
  77.   The Dog Song
  78.   Change the World
  79.   Toto Dies
  80.   Won't U Please B Nice
  81.   Inner Peace
  82.   Suitcase Song
  83.   Work Song
  84.   Clonie
  85.   Respectable
  86.   Really
  87.   Food
  88.   Long & Lazy River
  89.   Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine
  90.   Pasadena Girl
  91.   Cupcake
  92.   ¡Bodega!
  93.   Beecharmer by Cyndi Lauper
  94.   Sentimental Journey
  95.   Bruise on the Sky
  96.   Lali Est Paresseux
  97.   If I Ever Had a Dream