Nellie McKay has built her short and storied musical career (the gamine is only 27) by writing songs that evoke Tin Pan Alley sophistication and polish while seeming off the cuff, as if she had just dashed off a few morsels in the taxi on the way to the studio. McKay’s third release, Obligatory Villagers, is the resplendent flowering of her Rodgers and Hart meet Randy Newman style. (More than one reviewer has referred to McKay’s music as “songs in search of a musical.”) McKay’s songs are at turns funny (she’s a former stand-up comedian), theatrical (she starred as Polly Peachum in a limited run of “Threepenny Opera,” in 2006), and acerbic in the service of satire (from “Mother of Pearl: “feminists spread vicious lies and rumor / they have a tumor on their funny bone”). They also stick in your head with the deftness of their arrangements and cabaret-pop hooks. McKay self-describes her tunes as “schizophrenic voodoo music”; she prefers to blur the genre definitions that usually proscribe artists. McKay confounds expectations and has built a reputation as an iconoclastic performer who is all over the map musically, but right at home in her songs, from rap to the American songbook.
Nellie McKay will perform Friday, January 4 and Saturday, January 5 at 9pm at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Tickets are $30. (413) 528-3394; www.clubhelsinkiweb.com.