BWW Reviews: Nellie McKay Takes a Sentimental Journey
It's a rare occasion to hear a singer who transports you and I hope everyone has that opportunity at some point in their lives. I've been lucky enough to have this happen more frequently than most. Laura Benanti singing "Unusual Way" in Nine, Liz Callaway doing "Meadowlark," Celia Keenan-Bolger singing "Hold On" from The Secret Garden. Those moments where the singer holds you in the palm of their hand and takes you on a journey.
Nellie McKay is such a singer and I had the opportunity to catch her 90-minute act at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, MD. I won't lie. I've been a fan of hers since I first picked up her double-disc debut "Get Away From Me" on a whim at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square.
I caught her at a Joe's Pub in the Park event several years ago and fell in love. Her charm and unadulterated honesty make her a perfect fit for the concert stage.
The Strathmore Mansion is a stunningly beautiful space. I actually attended a friend's wedding there last year and was a little concerned as to where they would house live performances in the space. Their largest room (which served as the ballroom for the wedding I attended) seemed small for a concert - but sure enough, that's where we were. The size of the space made for an intimacy with the artists most don't get to experience. That being said, it did make for an uncomfortable sitting and entering/exiting experience due to the one-at-a-time up and down the aisle and too many chairs being crammed into the space.
And while the salon-type atmosphere can be cozy and engaging with a performer, unfortunately without the added height of even a 6-8" platform for a stage, Nellie's bobbing blond locks were all I could see from the 4th row. The only exception to this was when she took to the ukulele for a handful of numbers.
The evening was an eclectic mix of the classic tunes McKay's voice seems to have been specifically handcrafted to sing - "Sentimental Journey" to "Pennies from Heaven," and some of her own songs such as "Inner Peace" and "The Dog Song." As a progressive organizer, it was also heartwarming to see that her politics play no small role in her life. From a rant about New Yorkers in fur coats to pleading with Gov. O'Malley to end hydrofracking to her statistic that married men and single women are the happiest (which is why she supports gay marriage), it made me feel right at home.
She even broke out her ukulele and shouted "Here's a song about illegal immigration!" before crooning a lovely "Don't Fence Me In."
McKay is at her best when having fun, but just because she appears bubbly, don't be surprised when she takes you to a bit darker place. Her charm and contagiously warm personality gave way to a soulful rendering of Billie Holliday's "I Cover the Waterfront." My husband made the observation that her "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans," had him smelling jasmine in the air.
While I'm looking forward to catching Natascia Diaz there later this month, I'm not looking forward to the venue unfortunately. From what I understand, this is a pilot program of sorts, so hopefully they can make some changes to the space to make it more comfortable for patrons.