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Published: 2004/01/27
by Karl Kukta

Roll – Anne McCue

Messenger Records 15

Anne McCue is a talented Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist who knows
how to turn a phrase, especially the deprecatory kind, and especially when
the subject is relationships (I never worked in a factory, but I suffered
your shit and shoveled your debris, she sings in "Stupid"). In this
regard, she has an affinity with Lucinda Williams, who (coincidentally?)
just happens to be a big fan of McCue's work. But you probably wouldn't
make this connection after hearing Roll, which more often sounds like
mid-90's alternative rock than anything reviewed in No Depression.

Part of this is out of McCue's hands: she hasn't lived long (or hard) enough
to have vocal chords rubbed raw by booze, cigarettes and screaming at
cheatin' men. Her voice is ethereal and thin, and therefore limited in its
ability to carry a rockin' tune, but perfect for moody acoustic numbers and
bubbly pop. When she tries to put on other musical hats, though, the
results are uneven —"Nobody's Sleeping" is a harmless enough mid-tempo
rocker, but the self-loathing "Gandhi" comes off as a parody of PJ Harvey,
and the title track sounds like second-rate Elastica. The girl-rock
movement of a decade ago lingers throughout the disc, but unlike the new
Ryan Adams CD, for example, McCue lacks any sense of irony or playfulness in
her appropriation. Had McCue and co-producer Dusty Wakeman taken more of an
Americana approach to the arrangements, the crisp images and phrasing in
McCue's songs would have more room to breathe, and her vocals would not have
to carry the burden in the mix.

The album most effectively connects with its audience when McCue is looking
backward, immersing herself in a particular time and place. (Not
coincidentally, these are also the tracks in which McCue doesn't have to
duke it out with her electric guitar). "50 Dollar Whore" quietly ruminates
on a love lost to distance and self-pity during the year McCue spent gigging
in Vietnam, while in the buoyant "Milkman's Daughter" we are taken on a
nostalgia trip, driving with McCue and her father through different areas
from their past city, country, suburbs as he rolls cigarettes with one
hand and the sun slowly descends. It's a stunningly gorgeous song, proof
that simplicity often provides the most direct access to the heart.

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