Anne McCue's second album for Messenger Records, which follows 2004's enthusiastically received Roll, represents an extraordinary leap made by an already impressive talent. It goes beyond affecting songs and inspired playing and singing, and creates its own world.
Due out September 19, the album is once again co-produced by Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam) and McCue at Mad Dog Studios in Burbank. Koala Motel finds the Australian-born, Los Angeles- based writer/singer/guitarist surrounded by the estimable rhythm section of bassist Wakeman and drummer Dave Raven, with keyboardist Carl Byron completing the lineup. This group effort from four simpatico musicians is further enhanced by strategic vocal contributions from Lucinda Williams, John Doe, Jim Lauderdale and Heart's Nancy Wilson (who also plays mandolin on one track.)
McCue, who grew up in Sydney and has a degree in film production and film studies, expresses great admiration for the movies of Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Sergio Leone. Koala Motel's opening track is in the film noir style, and the final (title) track moves more toward the style of a Spaghetti Western theme. The recording is an intricate ensemble piece of another kind.
The four of us have been working as a unit for the last two years," McCue points out, and we've become really close, musically and personally. We recorded this album as a band. Dave and Dusty are both from Texas, and I've come to realize Texans and Australians are very similar. Being part of such a great band is like a dream."
McCue has assimilated certain vintage sounds into her own style, here employing them as subtle and complementary reference points. There are echoes of The Doors' L.A. Woman ("Driving Down Alvarado," with John Doe riding shotgun), Tupelo Honey-era Van Morrison ("Hellfire Raiser," to which Lucinda brings an inspired degree of nuance) and the classic Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris duets ("Shivers," with Lauderdale providing the chorus harmonies.) The lone non-original among these dozen songs is Tony Joe White's 1972 swamp-rocker, As The Crow Flies," which showcases the band's rarefied command of deep gut groove.
The media has taken note of McCue since 2002's Roll album. Rolling Stone noted that McCue wields potent bluesy rock against her unaffected, naturally wistful voice." Billboard called her a triple threat: a potent singer, thoughtful songwriter and tough guitarist (who) completely comes into her own on this project." The L.A. Weekly cited McCue's poignantly plaintive voice and multi-ranged guitar chops that swing from tasty Delta blues to stinging slide chordings to fat feedbacked riffs." And Entertainment Weekly summed it up: McCue is forging a unique voice."
With the appearance of Koala Motel, there is no longer any question that we're witnessing the maturation of an important new artist, in real time. Anne McCue's voice is one we need to hear.