Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anne McCue: “Blue Sky Thinkin’” (2015) CD Review

When I saw Anne McCue perform recently at The Hotel Café, she focused her set mainly on material from her upcoming release, Blue Sky Thinkin,’ and it was this new material which made that show one of the best concerts I’ve attended this year. It also made me truly excited to hear the new album. And now that I have heard it, I’m even more excited. This is my personal favorite of Anne McCue’s CDs. It has a delightful old-time feel that raises my spirits without being the least bit hokey or artificial. This is just really good music, and all but one track were written or co-written by Anne McCue (the one cover being Regis McNicholas Jr.’s “Knock On Wood”). Anne has an incredible group of musicians backing her on this release, including Dave Raven, Carl Byron and Dusty Wakeman, and is joined on one track by Dave Alvin on vocals. Every track here is a winner.

Blue Sky Thinkin’ opens with one of my favorites, “Dig Two Graves,” a song she played when I saw her in concert last month. It’s a tune about revenge and the effect it has on the one seeking it, and yet has such a great, happy vibe. Anne McCue so naturally inhabits this musical world. There is some really nice work on guitar, plus some delicious stuff on drums and violin. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Please dig a grave for me, mister/And one for my so-called friend/If your back should get sore/And you can’t dig no more/Feel free to jump right on in.”

“Things You Left Out In The Rain” is an absolutely beautiful, sweet, jazzy gem, with delicious vocals. “Long forgotten dream/Doesn’t matter now, it seems/There’s no need to explain/I’m just one of those things/Things you left out in the rain.” This is another she did at the concert I attended, but she had no horn section that night, and it’s the horns that really make this track a highlight. Seriously, the horns couldn’t be better. Horn arrangements on this disc are by Jim Hoke. John Hinchey plays trombone on this track. “Things You Left Out In The Rain” has been released as a single and a video, so you don’t have to wait for the album’s release to hear this one.

She follows that with “Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime,” a very cool folk tune that has a nice touch of blues. I love her vocal delivery here. She does a lot of interesting things vocally, and it all works perfectly. There is something kind of sad to the tale of this song, and yet it has an oddly uplifting effect, as it looks forward to something new while looking back at what’s gone. “You are gone/Gonna throw away my old dreams/Gonna drag ‘em way outside/Leave ‘em by the side of the road/Someone else can find.”

“Devil In The Middle” is a real treat. Even after the delight of the three previous songs, I wasn’t expecting “Hideehi” vocals. Anne McCue is joined on this track by the always-appreciated Dave Alvin on vocals, and he turns in a particularly excellent vocal performance here. He’s cooler than cool. You’ll know what I mean when you hear this track. And they sound great together. “The Devil’s in the middle/And he wants your soul/Grab him by the horns/Pull him by the tail/Poke him in the eye/Just to hear him wail.” And again, the horn section is excellent, taking you straight to New Orleans in the time it takes your heart to beat once.

Another favorite of mine is “Long Tall Story,” which is sweet and fun little love song. Anne then takes things in a different direction with “Little White Cat,” which has a country rock roadhouse vibe, with backing vocals echoing her (“Hey hey, ho ho”). It will get you dancing, or at least tapping your feet.

“It Wasn’t Even Fun While It Lasted” has my favorite title on this release. This one is a delightful and unusual tale of Paris; unusual, in that it doesn’t fall for the romance generally thought of as inherent to that city.  There is a great deal of flavor, and it mixes in some French words to humorous effect.

“Save A Life” will right away call to mind “Fever,” with that great, cool bass line at its heart and those finger snaps. But while it does have kind of a sexy sound and vibe, this is one of the most serious tracks on this release. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You’ve measured out your life in verses and choruses/You’ve been called a liar, you’ve never been a thief/But now you’re standing on the bridge/Ooh, looking for a reason to save a life.” Dave Pomeroy plays bass on this track.

“Uncanny Moon” transports you to another time and place, and Anne’s vocals are smooth and sexy, powerful, almost haunting. I also love what she does on guitar. There is some really nice work by Carl Byron on piano.

Blue Sky Thinkin’ concludes with its title track, a happy, jazzy tune with a positive, sweet bent that you can’t help but love. Check out these lines: “I don’t know why but that breeze in the sky/Keeps blowin’ those storm clouds away/Since I met you, all of my blues have/Turned into a blue sky day.” It is such a good, positive note to end on.

CD Track List
  1. Dig Two Graves
  2. Things You Left Out In The Rain
  3. Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime
  4. Devil In The Middle
  5. Long Tall Story
  6. Little White Cat
  7. It Wasn’t Even Fun While It Lasted
  8. Save A Life
  9. Uncanny Moon
  10. Cowgirl Blues
  11. Knock On Wood
  12. Blue Sky Thinkin’
Blue Sky Thinkin’ is scheduled to be released on February 10, 2015 through Flying Machine Records.

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