Anne McCue is better known for standing in front of guitars and drums than clarinets and brass. Her previous albums reached back to the gutsy sound of 1970s rock vocalists, as well as contemporaries like Sam Phillips and Lucinda Williams; her latest reaches back several more decades, to the sounds of the 1930s. Thereâ€™s always been a bluesy edge to her singing, and here those notes consort with the roots of swing and gypsy jazz. McCue dials down the ferocity of her vocals to an era-appropriate slyness, picks terrific figures on her guitar, and perhaps most impressively of all, writes songs that bid to fill some blank pages in the great American songbook.
Drummer Dave Raven nails the eraâ€™s blood-pumping excitement with Krupa-styled tom-toms on the opening â€œDig Two Graves,â€ Deanie Richardsonâ€™s fiddle provides a superb foil for McCueâ€™s six string swing, and Jim Hokeâ€™s clarinet and horn chart fills in the period detail. The songâ€™s bouncy tempo camouflages lyrics of noirish revenge, with San Francisco fog cloaking fatalistic fortunes. McCue turns to folk-blues with the finger-picked renewal of â€œSpring Cleaning in the Wintertimeâ€ and the old-timey â€œCowgirl Blues.â€ She turns into a charming, coquettish chanteuse for â€œLong Tall Story,â€ and gets slinky, ala Peggy Lee, on the double bass and finger-snapping â€œSave a Life.â€
Within the realm of swinging beats, McCueâ€™s songs are quite diverse, ranging from the rockabilly â€œLittle White Catâ€ to the fiery tango â€œUncanny Moon.â€ Thereâ€™s a nostalgic jazz core to the album, but it’s embroidered with elements of New Orleans funk, New York sophistication, big band rhythms, sinuous blues, stage flair and lyric craft. Dave Alvin guests as vocalist on the Cab Calloway-styled â€œDevil in the Middle,â€ and the albumâ€™s lone-cover, Regis McNichols Jr.â€™s contemporary â€œKnock on Wood,â€ fits perfectly with the standards vibe. McCueâ€™s virtuosity is no surprise, but the ease with which sheâ€™s absorbed and restated the beating heart of swing music is impressive and thrilling. [Â©2015 Hyperbolium]