Eccentric singer-songwriter Nellie McKay's new tribute to Doris Day is heartfelt and convincing.
Eccentric singer-songwriter Nellie McKay's new tribute to Doris Day is heartfelt and convincing. Caroline Knopf
What could notoriously eccentric young New York singer-songwriter Nellie McKay have in common with notoriously normal Hollywood icon Doris Day? The comparison only begins with McKay's new album, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day.
McKay first declared her love of Doris Day in a 2007 book review she wrote for The New York Times. McKay wrote of the exemplary pop singer, whose wholesome persona made her Hollywood's biggest female draw: "Her music is uncluttered, sensual and free, driven by an irrepressible will to live."
Normal As Blueberry Pie
McKay's Normal as Blueberry Pie is the fourth album of a contentious career that has also included an award-winning role in Brecht-Weill's Threepenny Opera and much outspoken animal-welfare activism, a cause she shares with Doris Day. McKay is a feminist who isn't shy about using that particular F-word, a wisenheimer who's done stand-up, a prima donna who fought her label to squeeze 23 new songs onto a CD instead of just 16. In 2005, I saw her perform half a dozen non-English titles she'd composed, including "Me Gusta Manana," about trying to go vegan in Spain. So it seems strange that her first album in two years comprises 12 Doris Day covers plus one original, and that it's jazzier than either her history or Day's would lead listeners to expect.
But while Normal as Blueberry Pie wouldn't be a Nellie McKay album if it weren't a little kooky, McKay's arrangements find a graceful midpoint between her postmodern cabaret and Day's popped-up big-band singer with chops for miles. It emphasizes the purity McKay's voice shares with Day's. It, too, is uncluttered, sensual and free.
As it happens, the first record I ever bought was Doris Day's Secret Love, which went No. 1 when I was 11. Nevertheless, my copy of Day's Golden Girl was in storage when Normal as Blueberry Pie came my way. My tribute to McKay is that her tribute has me convinced.