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Reviewed by John Paulsen
Even though it’s quite short at nine tracks – eight, if you don’t count the 24-second “Livin” – fans of her debut will be happy with the warmer, analog sound of Villagers. Its surprising brevity is also a departure from the double-disc sprawl of her first two albums. (Let’s hope that the music industry as a whole moves to shorter, more frequent releases now that the CD is almost dead.) The dance beats are (mostly) gone, but the arrangements are far from simple. There are a host of jazz greats that showcase their talents, including a brief appearance by Phil Woods’ alto sax and Nancy Reed’s sultry vocals on the meandering, Latin-infused “Politan.” David Liebman (sax) and Bob Dorough (vocals) each appear on several tracks as well. Dorough’s pipes gives an aged feel to the record, and they just might give the hipsters something kitschy to grasp onto.
Musically, the songs coalesce pretty well. There are lots of horns, complicated arrangements and catchy choruses. Lyrically, McKay is all over the place (as usual). There’s the commentary on the close-mindedness of the conservative set (“Mother of Pearl”), the anti-conformist (and anti-education?) rant (“Identity Theft”), a description of Saturday night in the men’s ensemble dressing room (“Galleon”) and the story of a curse that rose out of the swamps of Mississippi (“Zombie”).
Confused? Me too.
But that’s McKay’s lot in life. Her mission is to challenge the listener with new musical styles and obtuse lyrics. The theater set will love Obligatory Villagers, while the rest of us will probably be left a little lukewarm. She can be frustrating, even irritating, but no matter how you feel about her last two albums, you have to appreciate the independence of McKay’s spirit.