Nellie’s Colorful Quilt of Sound | Home Sweet Mobile Home melds Easy Listening with Island Sounds.
I have been a big fan of Nellie McKay’s quirky brand of jazz, pop, rock, and standards since her 2004 debut album Get Away From Me. The title is a clever play on the Norah Jones title Come Away with Me. The album cover, with its joyful display of Nellie on the cover, gives just a small glimpse of McKay’s sassy brand of humor that shows up through all of her work. She has worked along side of Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cumming in the musical The Threepenny Opera on Broadway. Her 2009 Doris Day cover album, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day, was a long time favorite of mine to put on my record player. Both her attitude and vocal delivery work beautifully to reform the songs of Doris Day. Her last album of original work would be 2010’s Home Sweet Mobile Home. After working with David Byrne on his concept album Here Lies Love, he returned the favor by working with her on this album. The record ties in more of McKay’s ukulele playing along with more guitar than her prior albums of original work. The sound is also a bit more different from that of her prior work. Nellie mixes in reggae, jazz, and Spanish influences on many of the tracks on this album.
There are notes of reggae in the island inspired “Caribbean Times” and “Unknown Reggae”. McKay takes on Spanish influences in the songs “¡Bodega!” and “Adios” as she mixes Spanish and English lyrics over classic guitar. Nellie stated in a press release from this time that:
“I guess I was looking for a sound to reflect our shrinking world and the bleed of culture crossing all kinds of borders.”
The opening track on the album, “Bruise on the Sky”, is still one of my favorite tracks out of her catalog. She effortlessly mixes her 50s style vocals against a more contemporary pop background. The calls out to a woman know more for her character than her musicianship, Charo. The chorus calls out to the hopelessness she feels in the world around her, “I had a dream I saw a rainbow/ I could have sworn I saw the sun pass by/ I had a dream I saw the pain go/ But what I hoped would be my rainbow/ Was just a bruise on the sky”. The remaining tracks weave in McKay’s affinity for jazz/standard inspired vocals and instrumentation with pop and some more beachy tones. “The Portal” looks into the ghosts of past relationship you can’t get over. “Beneath the Underdog” grapples with the wanting more and settling for where you're at and where life will take you. “Dispossessed” is a call to burge the memory of your ex from mind. “Coosada Blues” gives us our album’s namesake. The song seemingly calling home Nellie back to Mississippi (the Magnolia State). There are a couple of tracks that don’t gel with me on this album: “Please” and “Unknown Reggae”. I find “Unknown Reggae” to be a bit too preachy for my taste and “Please” was just a bit bland.
I have to say that this album was a pleasure to listen to all the way through. McKay knows her strengths and plays to them very well. Even in her more darker turns on the album, there is always a lightness to her delivery that buoys you back to the surface. The album received 3 out of 5 star from AllMusic and made it to number 17 on the Billboard Heatseeker list. When it comes to introductions to her work, I think this might be one of the most accessible of her prior works. Some of my favorite tracks off this album include:
- “Bruise on the Sky”
- “Caribbean Times”
- “The Portal”
- “No Equality”
The worst off the album:ne
- “Unknown Reggae”
My overall rating: 6 out of 10 Mobile Homes…