Nellie McKay 

Pretty Little Head

The friends for whom I've played Nellie McKay fall squarely into one of two camps: those who find the young singer-songwriter smart and stylish, and those who dismiss her as calculated and cloying. Truth is, McKay's piano-driven cabaret pop is all of the above, and how you'll feel about it depends entirely on how much drama club geekiness you can stomach. On Pretty Little Head -- sequel to her double-disc (!) '04 debut Get Away from Me -- the twentysomething New Yorker channels cosmopolitan jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie, layers in early Billy Joel's bravado and acerbic wit, then delivers the final package with a wink and a nod. This formula generally works well (most notably on clever, catchy cuts like "Cupcake" and "The Down Low"), but some songs -- especially those that strive too officiously to be topical -- come off as a touch insincere. Still, you just can't hate on talent this vibrant, independent, and ambitious -- we absolutely need more musicians like her.

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