Nellie McKay, the wunderkind with a Wurlitzer, is back with her third album Obligatory Villagers. Though the disc clocks a measly half-hour (noticeably meager against her first two double-disc releases), a sincere listen to McKay’s intricate writing, arranging and orchestration yields an impressive half-life.
The album opens with McKay’s unmistakable alto sardonically lulling, “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor,” a sentiment she plainly disproves, from a deadpan soft-shoe dance break to the closing, “My name is Kucinich and I approve this message.” Indeed, even those who take issue with McKay’s musical-theater style cannot deny the genius of her spit; patter-speak so slick and shrewd, she rivals MC Paul Barman.
Musically, McKay has the touch of the classicists—the jazzy sensibility of Gershwin set to the adventurous irreverence of Sondheim—yet her resourceful attention deficit prevents her from sounding dated. Her sound skews far more The Who’s Tommy than On The Town, rock-jazz that begs dramatic chorus chants, trumpets, abrupt explosions into clap-driven anthems and the occasional zombie paean.
Especially noteworthy is that McKay’s work isn’t about McKay; it’s about allowing every element of composition to have its day. A sax solo becomes a guitar riff becomes an homage to the layering of a glockenspiel. She’s challenging, she’s intrepid, and most importantly, she honors the damn music.