Diminutive blond powerhouse Nellie McKay pulls enough weight to lure Cyndi Lauper and K.D. Lang into guest spots on her sophomore album, which is as sweet and strong as a cup of sugar-doused espresso. Unlike the cutesy-pie singers flooding the WB these days, McKay is as subversive and creatively stubborn as she is photogenic. A master of pop song form and an accomplished pianist, McKay's songs are melodically biting and loaded with ideas, from the spiraling piano figures, choral harmonies and fight-the-power lyrics of "Big One" and the blissful rumba romance of "I Will Be There" to the Cole Porter nonchalance of "Long and Lazy River." "Real Life" is a new wave coming-of-age classic, like a lost track from Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True. Pretty Little Head is music to delight in and relish, every song a sophisticated tale from a witty song stylist worth watching. Ken Micallef
(Editor's note: This is a review of the "truncated" version of McKay's album. The shortening of the disc by label executives precipitated McKay's withdrawal from her Columbia Records contract and the removal of the album from the label's release schedule two weeks before its Jan. 3 release date. The full version is due to be available for download "sometime in January" via McKay's website, with a retail version available later in 2006.)
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