Blue Sky Thinkin' – Anne McCue (Flying Machine Records)
Australian Anne McCue left our shores well over two decades ago with her black Gibson Les Paul and a knapsack. She was raised in working-class Cambelltown in a loving family including a father with an amazing recording collection; a ghost that would haunt her years later.
Anne played gig after gig, after gig, in tiny bars, to major supports, and residencies. Driven by her music, her home was where opportunity knocked so she could record and play. Developing her craft as a minstrel of the world with a bucketful of personality, playing live in truckdriver rest stops, juke joints and to the hippest venues in town, she’s spread her music from Vietnam, England, Spain and her now home of Nashville, Tennessee.
"Blue Sky Thinkin'" is Anne's sixth record driven by finding her father’s classic collection of pre-WW2 American music, capturing the essence of that time and place. It’s much more than that. If the Harold Robbins novel, “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” needed a new soundtrack, this album is it.
These are tales of late nights with flickering candles, lost romance and Southern belle manners. At one point I felt Tennessee Williams would make a cameo.
On the opening track, “Dig Two Graves”, we hear Anne stamping her ground into another era. The beat shuffles, and there is swing. Breaking into strong tasteful fretwork, jazz-trained McCue’s wild, jaw-dropping solo is overtaken by fiddle-playing Deane Richardson. The first single, “Things You Left Out In The Rain” has smokey horns that soothe a tender ballad. And this girl can sing. Anne’s vocals have never sounded so good. A set of wonderful images of lawnmowers, forgotten dreams and lost love. Superb
“Spring Cleaning In The Winter Time” is timeless, with the essence of Delta echoes of Charlie Patton, and overtones of Rory Block. It’s marked by beautiful finger-picking and slide. Another example of world class songwriting. Is it the simplicity, or is McCue’s ability to capture another mood? Both.
“Little White Cat” shakes the tempo: we hit with a rockabilly swing and with the voice with that subjected old pre-war mono microphone feel. Foot tapping and a guitar solo that that Brian Setzer would kill for.
“The Pedal steel has been drinking” is the opening line, on “To Save a life”, A nod to Tom Waits with my piano is drunk tonight. Like mid-Seventies era Tom waits, Anne takes to the late nights urban city bar with desperate characters and images of the last of life facing decisions and hopelessness. The double bass of Tisha Simral haunts as it plods along, driving the song and highlighting amazing smoky saxophone woven into the song by Randy Leago. Every song on this album is remarkable and beautiful and so well arranged. I could try and name all the musicians as they all shine. And all are startlingly soulful and exceptional.
“Cowgirl Blues”’ essence is pure innocence and childlike, of special love and again the art of simplicity and perfect song writing The album closes with “Blue Sky Thinking” another tender love song, this time of celebration with jazz overtones, and a ghost of warm nights and cider watching a black and white forties movie.
I managed to highlight about seven of the songs: every song on this record is perfect. Over the decade Bob Dylan has been on the same path as Anne has explored on this remarkable album. This search of the rich tapestry of past pre-rock n roll music. It's a trip back to the startling time in 20th Century musical history and an exploration of music that is at times so soulful, so pure, innocent and a contrast to what we are subjected to in shopping malls, on the television and on the airwaves. Anne reminds of how magical this period of music is, a reaction to the bland feeble soap powder commercial Muzak we are subjected too. At the same time, managing to give a contemporised edge.
My favorite album of this year.