Nellie McKay, Martah Redbone Roots Project | Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Nellie McKay, Martah Redbone Roots Project 

When: Sat., April 25, 7 & 10 p.m. 2015
Price: $26, $24 members
There are plenty of reasons to love eclectic singer Nellie McKay, and one of the biggest is her disregard for meeting expectations: she follows her own quirky muse, and just when you think you’ve got her figured out she’ll throw a wrench in the works. Recently she’s been mounting a series of one-woman Broadway-style musicals about outliers like transgender jazz saxophonist Billy Tipton or Barbara Graham, the murderer who was the third woman to be put to death in the gas chamber at San Quentin. It seemed as though she was done making records, but following a five-year gap she returned last month with My Weekly Reader (429), a breezy album of 60s pop covers coproduced by Geoff Emerick (who produced McKay’s debut, Get Away From Me, and engineered many a Beatles session). In typical McKay fashion the selection is all over the place. Included are oldies-radio staples like the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park,” but she also tackles the Mothers of Invention rocker “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” (with a guest guitar solo from Dweezil Zappa) and Mimi and Richard Farina’s folk-rock obscurity “Bold Marauder.” She honors the melodic splendor of the tunes, and her effortless phrasing brings out fresh, surprising nuances, like the way she connects Moby Grape’s rousing “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” to recent miscarriages of justice such as the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. For this solo gig she’ll revisit the 60s material and surely include a bunch of unexpected stuff. —Peter Margasak
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