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 graceâ¹even 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.
WHAT THE MEDIA IS SAYING ABOUT ANNE McCUE
"Folk-rocker Anne McCue is an Australian with a punk past, yet she's got more all-American authenticity than a dozen Martina McBrides. McCue pours blood all over the tracks on her new Roll, singing of death and lust and sin and regret and whores and Gandhi. She possesses a poignantly plaintive voice and multi-ranged guitar chops that swing from tasty Delta blues to stinging slide chordings to fat feedbacked riffs (dig her cover of Hendrix's "Machine Gun.")
-- LA Weekly
"McCue brings post-Hendrix blues guitar and her post-Lucinda alto from the land of Oz (and a year of one-night stands in Vietnam; really), and would be worth showing up for even if she were alone."
-- Village Voice
"If Anne McCue, like up-and-comer Kathleen Edwards, represents a new generation of hard-bitten, country-inflected singer-songsmiths drawing deep inspiration from Lucinda Williams, don't fault her for it. She could do worse for role models, and -- also like Edwards -- is forging unique voice from the influence."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"Anne McCue is a folkie, but she's no delicate flower: Fresh off a tour with Louisiana growler Lucinda Williams, the Aussie singer-guitarist recently spent a year gigging five nights a week in Vietnam and boasts an arsenal of muscular Hendrix chords."
"Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Anne McCue wields potent bluesy rock against her unaffected, naturally wistful voice."
A gifted guitarist"
"The best album of the year!"
-- Bob Harris, BBC
"Anne McCue's second record, Roll (Messenger), proves the value of fiery guitar playing to archy singer/songwriter material, as the Aussie lets her instrument roll behind her vocals, expressing with contained metallic fury what her words only suggest."
-- The Onion
"It's a compelling effort -- at turns hard-nosed and soft-stroking, rocking and twangy -- with McCue's consistently vital material, emotive vocals and great guitar work."
-- Philadelphia Daily News
"Besides having a bluesy Â voice and songs to match ('50 Dollar Whore,' 'Ballad of an Outlaw Woman'), McCue is an accomplished guitarist who can handle Delta blues and fat feedback Â as well as quieter folk stylings. Not only does she dare to cover Hendrix's 'Machine Gun,' but her nine-minute version, tucked away as a hidden track Â at the end of her new album, Roll, also does righteous justice to the revered Â guitar god's memory."
-- Washington Post
"Listeners will delight in her slide guitar prowess, as well as her pointed and powerful lyrics."
-- Seattle Post Intelligencer
"Anne McCue is the virtual definition of "triple threat." A potent singer, thoughtful songwriter and tough guitarist, she completely comes into her own on this new project."
"The young Australian earns accolades with an album of songs that stretch from urgent to world-weary with bracing bluntness."
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
"My new favorite artist and an amazing guitarist" -- Lucinda Williams