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Koala Motel
MSGR24 2006 CD

Roll
MSGR15 2004 CD

Anne McCue - Koala Motel

Koala Motel, Anne McCue's second album for Messenger Records, following 2004's enthusiastically received Roll, represents an extraordinary leap made by an already impressive talent. The new album is at once timely and timeless, accessible and deep. It goes beyond affecting songs and inspired playing and singing, and creates a world of its own.

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 writer/singer/guitarist surrounded by the nimble rhythm section of bassist Wakeman and drummer Dave Raven, with skilled keyboard player Carl Byron completing the lineup. This is distinctly a group effort by these four simpatico musicians, further enhanced by strategic vocal contributions from Lucinda, John Doe, Jim Lauderdale and Heart's Nancy Wilson (who also plays mandolin on one track). McCue has a degree in film production and film studies, and she expresses great admiration for the movies of Robert Altman and Sergio Leone; Koala Motel is an intricate ensemble piece of another kind, the opening track being in the film noir style and the final (title) track moving more toward the style of a Spaghetti Western theme.

"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. Dusty and Dave are both from Texas, and I've come to realize that Texans and Australians are very similar. Being part of such a great band is like a dream."

Whereas Roll primarily presented McCue's songs in the context of a modern-day power trio, Koala Motel expands the soundscape, as her electric and acoustic guitars share the foreground with Byron's piano (at times he actually seems to be channeling the late, great Nicky Hopkins), Hammond B-3, and accordion. While her guitar work on the new album doesn't dominate, it deftly enhances the meaning and feeling of each song, like the Beatlesque slide part that appears briefly but crucially to underscore the bittersweet flavor of "Sweet Burden of Youth." "I like guitar players like George Harrison and Dave Gilmour, who play very tastefully," she confirms, "as well as Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan."

On one level, Koala Motel is a celebration of the music the Sydney- born McCue grew up with as the beneficiary of the collective tastes of her seven older siblings. "The early '70s is my favorite era," she says, "and I wanted the album to have a bit of that feel." By now, McCue has thoroughly assimilated these vintage sounds into her own style, here employing them as subtle and complementary reference points. From song to song there are echoes of L.A. Woman, her favorite Doors album ("Driving Down Alvarado," with Doe riding shotgun), Tupelo Honey-era Van Morrison ("Hellfire Raiser," to which Lucinda brings an inspired degree of nuance), Fleetwood Mac ("Lay Me Down") 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 the deep gut groove.

On another level, the album is a trenchant commentary on things breaking down in the modern world — institutions, cultures, moral values and relationships. The tone is established on the edgy opening tandem of "Driving Down Alvarado" and "From Bakersfield to Saigon." The first, explains McCue, is "about the seedy side of life, and 'Bakersfield' is about the dangerous climate of meanness and greed that exists in the world. Every culture is exhibiting it — it seems to be a universal movement — and I find that really frightening. In the 60s there were leaders who had a dream of a better future. No one is presenting that to us at the moment, but I am hopeful things will improve."

"Any Minute Now" is an apocalyptic rocker that brings the "paranoia and anxiety" (as she puts it) of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" into the present tense. The band's appropriation of a galloping Motown groove serves to intensify the sense of urgency found in McCue's lyric while also counteracting its thematic toxicity.

McCue balances these disturbing themes with what could alternately be seen as their antidote or as shelter from the storm ‹ romantic love. One of several intriguing songs that looks at intimate relationships is "Coming to You," a lovely ballad rooted, fittingly, in pastoral British traditional music, a la Fairport Convention. The lyric, she says, "is based on a letter that appears in D.H. Lawrence's groundbreaking 1920s novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The roles of men and women were changing then and that's true today as well. Nothing is clear-cut anymore, and what makes the book so great is that it's about being with another person no matter what the cost. Love is the answer, like John Lennon said."

On this bold and timely work, McCue doesn't hesitate to confront the heaviest issues head-on, and the personal catharsis she achieves by doing so is commensurate with the effect of this provocative music on the listener. With the appearance of Koala Motel, there's 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.

Anne McCue - Roll

When Anne McCue proclaims, "I've gotta roll" on the title track from her Messenger Records debut, Roll, her urgency and conviction are telling: here is an artist who has been on an extraordinary journey and lived to tell the tale.

McCue's musical path commenced during her childhood in Sydney, Australia. The last of eight children born to a milkman and a nurse, she absorbed the runoff of the inevitably diverse musical tastes of her huge family. Naturally the Beatles rated, but she also fell for French composer Eric Satie and crooner of the dark side, Nick Cave. Although an immediate and profound element in her upbringing, music trailed on her career choice list (behind novelist, film maker and marathon runner), and eventually she graduated from the Sydney University of Technology with a degree in Film Production and Film Studies.

Of course, some things are just meant to be. When her brother brought home a $70 Gibson SG copy, it resonated with innumerable possibilities. "That guitar was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen," she confesses. She surreptitiously strummed it for years, but when her father passed away, McCue grabbed it and made for Melbourne. "When he died, it made me realize life is kinda short," she says. "I made a list of things I wanted to do. The first one was to play in a rock band."

She wound up as lead guitarist of acclaimed Aussie Power pop group, Girl Monstar, which garnered an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Award) nomination for Best Independent Release. The Monstar ran its course and McCue began frequenting local blues jams. She was offered a gig in Vietnam for three months and ended up staying a year, playing six nights a week, covering many different genres including power rock, jazz, blues and alternative-country. Upon returning to Melbourne, she commenced recording her solo debut, Amazing Ordinary Things, at Tim Finn's (Crowded House) Periscope Studios.

Before the album was complete, McCue joined Eden a.k.a., an acoustic rock band signed to Columbia Records. They were brought to the U.S. to record and tour, including stints on the 1998 and 1999 Lilith Fair. When that ended, McCue stayed in L.A. and leapt back into completing Amazing Ordinary Things, which eventually was released in Canada and most recently in Japan.

While touring to back up the album, McCue wowed crowds and acquired fans in high places. She played constantly including shows with Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, and Lucinda Williams, who would become her biggest champion. Williams took McCue on the road throughout 2002, praised her at every chance referring to her as "my new favorite artist... and an amazing guitarist," and honored her with inclusion on the Lucinda Williams: Artist's Choice compilation CD, in the esteemed company of John Coltrane, Leonard Cohen, Patty Griffin, Paul Westerberg, and Ryan Adams.

Soon, she was selling out her own shows and released Anne McCue Live: Ballad of An Outlaw Woman, a solo recording from The Fillmore in San Francisco, one of the stops on the Williams tour. A startling contrast to Amazing Ordinary Things' pop sheen, Ballad... distilled McCue's talents — prodigious songwriting skill and guitar witchcraft — into their true, ethereal essence. The spirit continues with Roll.

Produced by McCue and bassist Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda, Dwight Yoakam) at Mad Dog Studios in Burbank, Roll is McCue fortified by a rock solid Texan rhythm section of Wakeman and drummer Dave Raven. "The whole idea was to get back to a three-piece band in the studio," McCue explains, citing such favorite trios as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Police, and The Jam. "I like that people triangle, and I wanted to record like that: guitar-bass-drums. That way we get as much of a live feel as possible. Later we overdubbed some B3, accordion and guitars where necessary."

"But basically it's just me, a bass player, and a drummer," she enthuses. "I got my Les Paul out and we were just having a rockin' good time. I love the freedom of being the only chordal and lead instrument. There's so much room to improvise, jam and generally have a blast, both live and in the studio. I still like playing nice acoustic arrangements with cello or whatever, but a three-piece rock band? That's my idea of a good night out."

The songs are accordingly plain- spoken and open-ended; she writes unencumbered by static statements or formats, and with a fluid grace‹even her most personal and specific words wrap well around a hundred different situations. In addition to the steamrolling barroom rocker, "Roll," McCue sings of considered suicide on the Byrds-ish "Stupid," gets Beatlesque and regretful on the "50 Dollar Whore," and self-loathsome and just short of P.J. Harvey-crazy on "Gandhi," singing "I wanted to be like Jesus/but I turned out like Judas/I schemed a lot and I cheated my way through/I lied to me and I lied to you."

"If you're gonna write a song," she says, "you should try to tell the truth."

When she really gets down, it's intense. The simmering/seething electric country blues guitar on the album closer "Ballad of an Outlaw Woman," juxtaposed with her mellifluous, but world-weary vocals ("outlaw boy, he came my way/how's about a roll in the hay/we hit the road/ baby at my breast/to keep a life alive/ you gotta know how to take what's best.../to keep your truth alive/gotta hide what you know inside..." is inviting, ominous and ultimately deadly. "Never was a man so mean/never was a shot so clean," she sings before the song combusts and convulses in a fuming fit of slide guitar.

But where the album really blows up is a minute past Ballad..., when the bonus track, a hellacious one-take cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun," sends home what a striking talent Anne McCue is. She absolutely nails the frenetic fuzz and fire, such that midway through the 9-1/2 minute track, you forget it's not Jimi wringing insanity from six strings—it's Anne McCue. And she's on a roll.

For more information on Anne McCue, please contact:
Cary Baker at conqueroo communications: 818-501-2001 cary@conqueroo.com
or Brandon Kessler at Messenger Records: 212.675-6164, brandon@messengerrecords.com