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Nellie McKay Gets Sweet and Serious

Nellie McKay's lunatic-fireball appeal doesn't detract from the sincerity of "Gladd."
Nellie McKay's lunatic-fireball appeal doesn't detract from the sincerity of "Gladd."

Nellie McKay's first album, 2004's Get Away From Me, had the logorrheic charm of someone trying to get every idea out of her system at once, lest she never get another chance. And she seemed intent on precisely that, publicly squabbling with her then-label and temporarily retreating to Broadway in the recent revival of The Threepenny Opera.

As a result, it's easy to focus on McKay's lunatic-fireball appeal, but the hymn-like "Gladd," from her long-delayed Pretty Little Head, offers a reminder that she's also capable of jaw-droppingly beautiful songs. With a Joni Mitchell-like purity, McKay sings a friend to a peaceful death over a simple series of piano chords that gently push forward with minimal ornamentation.

The approach isn't entirely new for McKay, but she's always attached at least one punchline. In "Gladd," however, she sounds more straightforward (not to mention lucid) than she ever has before, calmly offering up a reassuring farewell from the deceased. "It's been a long time coming and I know we've just begun," McKay sings, as both herself and the person she's lost. "All the pain has passed and there is peace."

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.