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Nellie McKay 

Obligatory Villagers (Hungry Mouse)

Nellie McKay's third album Obligatory Villagers is only 30 minutes long — which is a mere hiccup when compared to her previous two lengthy albums. But while Villagers is short, it's not lacking in decoration; it's a distended orchestral romp teeming with unexpected instruments (glockenspiel, anyone?) and painstaking arrangements, all hand-carved by McKay herself. At first listen, the album channels Threepenny Opera far more than it resembles McKay's 2006 album Pretty Little Head. This musical-theater bent that may alienate fans who never identified with the Nellie who worked in "Snowshoe, Pa. doing some play from Backstage." (And indeed, those who shun Sondheim and Brecht should steer clear of "Oversure" and "Galleon" in favor of indulging in the rest of the accomplished album.) "Mother of Pearl" is a sardonic soft-shoe that pits feminist McKay against a catcalling moron; "Identity Theft" shrewdly spits at pop and politics; "Zombie" teams a bluesy boogie with a chorus of undead chants; and standout "Testify" is a rousing gospel number for anyone praying at the altar of Awesomeness.

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More by Kristyn Pomranz

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