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Nellie McKay: Sister Orchid (Palmetto)

Review of album by vocalist with a distinctive take on an all-standards playlist

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Cover of Nellie McKay album Sister Orchid
Cover of Nellie McKay album Sister Orchid

If Theo Bleckmann has an equal among fearless vocal adventurers, it is surely Nellie McKay. Like Bleckmann, an inveterate genre- and era-blurring genius, the British-American McKay has shaped a marvellously checkered career: She’s as infatuated with disco, rap and rock as she is with pop and jazz; she’s equally at home alongside David Byrne, Laurie Anderson or Fatboy Slim; and she’s equally skilled at celebrating Frank Zappa, Doris Day or transgender pianist and bandleader Billy Tipton.

The irrepressible McKay enters this all-standards playlist astride a calliope-driven carousel, her whirling “My Romance” evincing Peggy Lee. Inspired, as she suggests in the liner notes, by the heady variegation of an overnight drive down the California coast, she then travels from a noirish “Angel Eyes” and fogbound “Where or When” to tender readings of “The Nearness of You,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Georgia on My Mind,” plus a breezy, ukulele-propelled “Lazybones.”

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