Album Reviews

Julie McKee – What A Woman Shouldn’t Do

(Shrewd) UK release date: 16 June 2008

The debut album from Julie McKee is a pleasant slice of jazz-pop crossover, providing music to snap your fingers to as the red wine flows across a bar panelled with dark wood and decorated with crimson seats. Once, it would have smelled of French cigarettes.

These days, of course, the air is clearer – a state of affairs that suits Julie McKee’s smooth tones much better. Slickly produced, engineered and mixed by Joe Leach (but don’t necessarily hold the fact that he’s worked with Jamie Cullum against it), the music is helped along by a host of notables including Simon (Divine Comedy) Little and Nigel Price of the James Taylor Quartet.

Steve Rubie, owner of Chelsea’s famous jazz venue the 606 Club takes time out to provide alto flute duties, and the rest of band covers sassy brass, delicate strings and seductive woodwind, with arrangements spanning minimal to multi-layered. This offers the perfect accompaniment to McKee’s impressive vocal range, which stretches from the girlish staccato of the pop-leaning, summery Eric Marlow to the deep, lounge jazz of Carousel, whose nods to Weimar-era cabaret go beyond its title.

On many songs, particularly as The Experts, the piano chords and chirpiness of the harmony is drawn from the same English tradition that led to Sgt Pepper: Victorian music hall brought into the 21st century via big bands; elsewhere the old blues of the Deep South seep through.

The mixture of musical traditions is apparent from opening track Nobody’s Farm: brassy, jazzy and molasses-thick with strings behind it. Further into the album, Summer Weather In My Heart makes you want to grab the red sequinned dress that’s been lost in your wardrobe for far too long and let the candlelight sparkle off its rhinestones. Songs like these have waved entire generations off to war.

What A Woman Shouldn’t Do envelopes its songs in a warm familiarity, a sense of half-remembered lullabies that belong in a world slowly fading from living memory. The music is rich and comforting, McKee’s voice soothing and smooth, setting the scene for Mount Vesuvius to break the last waltz and pull the whole room back onto the dancefloor with a cheekiness not seen since the Beautiful South called it a day.

A versatile album, straddling the twin worlds of pop and jazz well enough to keep interesting and focussed right through to its final eponymous track, What A Woman Shouldn’t Do is an accomplished debut from an accomplished entertainer, a good bet for summer party music – if only the weather will hold.

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Julie McKee – What A Woman Shouldn’t Do