October 22, 2014

Anne McCue’s Blue Sky Thinkin’ Swings


Features collaborations with David Olney and Dave Alvin;
Set for Release on February 10, 2015 via Flying Machine Records

Blue Sky Thinkin’ is the album Anne McCue has been waiting her whole life to make, even though she didn’t realize it. She initially planned to make a bluesy, swampy album as the follow-up to 2010’s guitar-focused CD Broken Promise Land. However, after she wrote the jaunty, jazzy tune “Blue Sky Thinkin’,” it reawakened her love for swing era music. So, as she explains it, instead of doing another album with Neil Young or the early Rolling Stones as musical guideposts, McCue did one where Hoagy Carmichael, Billy Holliday, and George Gershwin served as her hallmarks.

McCue’s affection for this pre-rock music is evident in the disc’s gorgeously crafted songs; they sound so authentically vintage that you’ll be checking the credits to see what Tin Pan Alley tunesmith wrote them. “Things You Left Out in the Rain,” with its woozy horns punctuating McCue’s chanteuse-like purr, and “It Wasn’t Even Fun While It Lasted,” a lighthearted romp about heartbreak, suggest long lost gems that might have appeared in a ’30s musical. “Save a Life” evokes Peggy Lee’s smoky aura, while McCue professes that the acoustic blues “Cowgirl Blues” offers a nod to another of her favorite singers, Memphis Minnie.

Those who know McCue for her rugged blues rock music will connect to “Little White Cat,” a ’50s-style roadhouse boogie that she notes is the most modern cut on the release. Written as a more positive-looking reply to John Lee Hooker’s “Black Cat Blues,” the tune also reveals her love for Cab Calloway, as does “Devil in the Middle,” a darkly dramatic song (co-written with David Olney and John Hadley) that features a duet with Dave Alvin. McCue was thrilled to get Alvin to sing with her because his “beautiful, deep voice” made him the made him McCue’s first choice for the track.

Blue Sky Thinkin’ also affords McCue the opportunity to showcase her critically hailed guitar prowess in new and often more subtle ways. Her blues playing here favors a more acoustic variety, such as the Lightnin’ Hopkins-style picking on “Cowgirl Blues.” More often she salutes her jazz guitar idols. Her fluid licks in “Knock on Wood” and the title track pay tribute to the great jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, and the gypsy jazz playing on “Dig Two Graves” speaks to her affection for Django Reinhardt. The tango touches, meanwhile, in “Uncanny Moon” reflect her admiration for Brazilian music legend Astor Piazzola.

It might seem usual that McCue was influenced by so much music made decades before she was born; however, this was the music she heard at home growing up in Australia. “My parents were from the World War II generation,” she explained. “This was their music and I listened to it as much as New Wave as a kid.” A pivotal moment in her musical enlightenment, McCue reveals, was discovering the Benny Goodman album He’s Funny That Way in a Sydney record store. “When I bought it, the guy looked at me (dressed very alternatively) and said, ‘you want to buy this, hey?’ He was quite incredulous. I played that disc a lot! I loved it, and still have it.”

Jazz, in fact, was McCue’s main musical focus when she was starting off in Australia, before she turned her attention to rock ’n’ roll and headed to America. Following Broken Promise Land, she took some time off. Rediscovering her passion for music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s served to get her excited about making music again. “It was very easy to write this way,” she admits. “It was so natural.”
To help bring her vision to life, McCue turned to some old friends: bassist/co-producer Dusty Wakeman, drummer Dave Raven and keyboardist Carl Byron. This trio of veteran Los Angeles sidemen (whose collective resumes include work with Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, Nancy Sinatra, Warren Zevon and Dwight Yoakam) was her band on her breakout debut, Roll. McCue raves, “they just instinctively knew what to do”; so in sync that they recorded the final six songs in less than two days.

She returned to her current home, Nashville, to finish the album. Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris), who mixed the CD, expressed his love for Blue Sky Thinkin’, and he’s not alone. Veteran music executive Eddie Gomez hailed the album as “a bona fide collection of new standards for a generation that hungers for the good stuff.” Noted songwriter David Olney, who collaborated with McCue on several Blue Sky numbers, describes her as “fearless and tender and alluring.”

Even when she’s not making her own, McCue has a life full of music. The release she produced for Emma Swift just got a Best Country Album nomination by the Australian Record Industry Association (alongside acts like Keith Urban and Kasey Chambers). McCue has projects in the works such as a children’s book and CD, and she hosts the Songs on the Wire show on the Internet station East Nashville Radio, an experience that she says has brought her a “new respect for making music.”

McCue, who has operating as a wholly independent artist for the past seven years, turned to Indiegogo to help complete Blue Sky Thinkin’. While she was terrified at first, she found it to be a great experience, admitting, “I cried when the first contributions started coming in.” Live audiences have had “a fantastic response” to the new tunes, she reports, and she can’t wait to share Blue Sky Thinkin’ with more people. “It’s a fun, uplifting album . . . I want to make other people’s lives happier.”

Love it? Share it?