With smokey vocals and outlaw riffs, Anne McCue returns with her sixth album Blue Sky Thinkin’ once more proving her natural ebullience and her ever-present intriguing artistic charm. The album is almost an anthropological find, laced with an old time feel, you would be unsurprised if the album had come from a different era. Although created under heavy influence of her own inspirations such as Billie Holliday and Memphis Minnie, the album is incomparable and completely its own.
Captivating from the opening, Dig Two Graves is a song written about revenge driven by an unyielding bass line together with a wandering fiddle and guitar. Born in Australia, McCue is not returning to her roots here but instead embracing the roots of Nashville, her home since 2006. While the words are soaked in reprisal, McCue escapes the stereotypical folk singer-songwriter morbidity with a vivacious melody. The track is an exciting opener setting a high standard for the rest of the album.
Things You Left Out in the Rain takes you back to the late 1930s with a Vera Lynn-esque touch and John Hinchey’s soothing trombone playing. The lyrics free-fall into a sea of disappointment and heartbreak as McCue sings of being ‘one of those things you left out in the rain’. Her vocal is unnervingly calming, effortlessly portraying the anguish of her heartbreak. Up next is Spring Cleaning in the Winter Time where we return from the past with a more modern folk sound. The uplifting song is accompanied by accordion as well the as guitar played my McCue, proving her to be a gifted instrumentalist as well as singer. Although the album encapsulates a range of styles, it maintains the variability without subjecting listeners to the feeling of motion sickness.
The rich and warming voice joining McCue in Devil in the Middle belongs to Dave Alvin. Throughout the track the pair sing in unison. Where usually, harmonies would be anticipated, the simplicity of unison is a perfect fit for this cool track, which is sometimes spoken, like any good old country number is. A personal highlight is the opening of Save a Life with its jazzy walking bass and finger snapping, incidentally also performed by the bass player. Momentarily you may become lost in the smoke filled jazz bar scene which the song invites into the imagination. Although the song indulges in a jazzy swing, this is perhaps the albums darkest track with lyrics such as ‘but now you’re standing on the bridge, looking for a reason to save a life.’ The double bass is prominent and completely welcomed as so. Double bass plays a wonderful role in this album, with four bass players each taking their turn flawlessly.
It Wasn’t Even Fun While it Lasted is coated with subtle wit, where McCue sings of a love affair set in the ‘City of Romance’. The song tells the story of an affair which is not the cliché whirl-wind romance often found in Paris. McCue adds French lyrics to the light-hearted track adding to the comedy. McCue wrote all but one song on the album with help from great collaborators including producer Dusty Wakeman. The albums only cover, Knock on Wood, written by Regis McNicholas, opens with the stylish piano playing of Carl Byron. The song suits McCue’s voice well. The title track, Blue Sky Thinkin’, is the closing track to an impressive album. The song is sweet, both in melody and lyrics, and accompanied by numerous instruments which share the bluesy riff. The album undoubtedly showcases McCue’s talent as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
A final word of warning: when listening to the album in public, be aware of involuntary dancing.
Review by: Kim Carnie