Nellie McKay didn’t set out to record a tribute to the legendary actress and vocalist Doris Day, but continued cajoling from her team at Verve Records went a long way towards making the project a reality.
“My A&R guy Mitchell Cohen was pushing this project to me,” McKay says. “I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it worked. It really was a great idea.”
The album, Normal as Blueberry Pie, is a testament to McKay’s ability to infuse her signature sound on even the most classic material. Whether on timeless tracks like Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Meditation,” or on her own, jazz standard-esque “If I Ever Had a Dream,” McKay marries her razor-sharp musicianship with decidedly retro vocal delivery. You might swear the record was recorded decades ago — that is, until you hear the occasional post-modern sax solo or synth flourish. It’s an album that brims with kinetic kindness — a refreshing break from much of the angst-ridden, confessional music of today.
“I think too often, probably I’ve been guilty of making that kind of music myself,” McKay continues. “But sometimes really depressing or angry music can make you feel better. Right now, I’m reading Pops, the new biography of Louis Armstrong. So much of the book focuses on the idea of how he was always an optimistic artist. He always ‘played in a major key,’ so to speak. I think that’s a good thing to aim for.”
McKay wears many musical hats on the new album. She sings, plays everything from piano to ukulele to Mellotron, and crafts all of the arrangements and orchestrations as well. She’s an artist who is clearly as at home behind the scenes as she is behind the mic and piano.
“This project still makes me nervous just thinking about it, because you’re doing songs that everybody knows. So if you mess them up, you’re not just messing up your own stuff — you’re doing it to a woman who had such an incredible career, and a huge repertoire. And also, who everybody knows. I really don’t know why I ever agreed to it. Still!” [Laughs.]
Rest assured, Nellie McKay’s new album singularly and successfully salutes the legacy of Doris Day. Catch Nellie on tour in 2010, and hear for yourself why she’s anything but normal as blueberry pie.