KCRW presents Nellie McKay

By Taylor Van Arsdale

KCRW 89.9 presents Nellie Mckay with Shane Alexander and Persia White at the Roxy on November 4 for a night of music, politics and activism.

British born, effervescent blonde, pianist-ukulele playing-singer-actress-comedienne-vegan-animal activist (yes, Nellie McKay truly does it all, and does it all with grace and aplomb) is on tour promoting her latest album, “Home Sweet Mobile Home,” on Verve Records.

If you get a chuckle reading the album’s title, you’ll enjoy the show even more for McKay’s satirical sense of humor emerges mainly through her music, and her music sensibilities—vacillating from indie to reggae to jazz and back again; a dynamic range of styles—which never cease to amaze and entertain.

McKay’s lilting voice (think Rickie Lee Jones) harkens to the vibrant vocalists of the 1940s and ‘50s. Indeed, so much so that McKay was approached Verve Records and shortly thereafter, in 2009, released, “Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute To Doris Day” which features 12 songs from Ms. Day’s repertoire including “The Very Thought Of You,” “Sentimental Journey,” and “Send Me No Flowers.”

Her skill at reinventing jazz standards with a modern flavor aside, McKay’s also known for her ability to convey political messages with wit. Her song “Mother of Pearl” is a satirical look at feminism, in which she laments, “Feminist’s don’t have a sense of humor / feminist’s just want to be alone (boo hoo) / feminists spread vicious lies and rumors / they have a tumor on their funny bone…Can’t these chicks do anything but whine?”

However McKay is more than the “witty entertainer,” she’s also quite the activist. In her song “Columbia Is Bleeding” she depicts the torturous animal experimentation going on at Columbia University and the distressing disinclination and unwitting ignorance of those who pass by to put a stop to the cruelty. Of the lyrics, “Vickie Lucas crossed campus / Was thinkin how she’s made it now / That successful feeling / Walked by fast / Hailed a cab / No clue that she’d passed a lab / And while she’s sittin in lit class / Columbia is bleeding,” McKay said, in an interview with PETA, “I wanted to make it subtle in a way that it gives a pastiche of everyday living in Morningside Heights…and around Columbia being a student, having to deal with everyday problems that people have to deal with but also about caring about these animals that are being tortured literally blocks from their homes.” The long time vegan is trying to illuminate her audience about ‘goings on’ which need to be stopped.

“Home Sweet Mobile Home” is a carefully orchestrated album; with its joie de vivre feel and Caribbean influences it seems quite the departure from her last; it even includes several upbeat reggae tunes. Those of you looking to hear McKay’s acoustic ukulele ditties fear not, there are several. That’s not to say there’s no poignancy; there’s plenty of that too. “Bruise The Sky,” whose lyrics “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” tells of gentle optimism turning to dust. There’s that lovely lyrical cynicism we’ve come to expect from McKay and as always, she boldly delivers.

Rounding out the evening are Shane Alexander and Persia White. It seems incongruous that acoustic pop composer/singer/musician Shane Alexander whose song, “Feels Like The End” from the album “The Sky Below” and was featured on “One Tree Hill,” cut his teeth on Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but there it is. His tunes contain a twinge of poetic sadness and his vocals—a cross between Pete Yorn and Nick Drake—both inspire and delight.

Persia White is an actress, musician and activist. According to her website she believes, “NOW, more than ever is the time for change. It is time people make the connection between mankind, the environment, animals and nature. The future depends on us. Our children depend on us and all life on earth as we know it depends on us…” Her music, which also promotes activism is a blend of techno, electronica and trip hop with highly stylized vocals.