Anne McCue headlining Ypsilanti Crossroads' Folk / Roots Fest
That group performed on one of the Lilith Fair tours of the era and recorded an album—but Columbia never released it.
So, she went off on her own, became part of the L.A. roots-music scene—and in 2004, knocked everyone’s socks off with her “Roll” album. That record got a load of attention, due to McCue’s scintillating guitar chops, her beckoning, often-sultry vocals and the vivid imagery of her lyrics.
McCue has released three more albums since then (that makes six altogether), and has become a critic’s favorite in the process. She was voted the Roots Music Association’s Folk Artist of the Year in 2008, and performed at a Jimi Hendrix tribute at the 2007 International Guitar Festival (“Roll” included her swaggering cover of Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”).
And she was included in the “Four Decades of Folk Rock” box set that included heavy hitters like Bob Dylan and Wilco. Heart’s Nancy Wilson has described her as “my Aussie clone,” while Lucinda Williams praised McCue as “my new favorite artist and an amazing guitarist.”
McCue headlines the Ypsilanti Crossroads Festival’s “Folk / Roots Fest” on Friday, going onstage at 9 p.m. Also performing at the fest that night are local roots-music acts View, Spencer Michaud, Hoodang, and Billy Brandt and the Mission Band.
McCue also performs Saturday at the Black Crystal Cafe.
McCue’s latest project is a concert DVD, “Live in Nashville,” released in 2011 and mostly recorded at The Rutledge club in Music City. Seven of the 11 songs are from her 2010 album “Broken Promise Land.” In addition to the live performances, the DVD includes brief interview interludes, in which McCue talks about that album and some of the individual songs.“I really wanted a visual document of what I do on stage,” says by McCue by phone from East Nashville, which has been her home base for the last five years. “I think that a lot of people, when they hear a record by a female artist, they think she’s only singing and that men are playing all of the instruments, so I did want to show that it was me playing guitar.
“Plus, I don’t get to play everywhere, so I wanted people who like my music, but who’ve never seen my live show, to have that kind of video document.”
Meanwhile, when writing songs for “Broken Promise Land,” and deciding what kind of record she wanted to make—stylistically and in terms of production—McCue says: “I wanted this to be to be a full-on electric album, with a band, compared to some of my previous albums, which were a mix of acoustic and electric.
“And, I wanted it to be a tribute to some of my favorite guitar players and bands, like Midnight Oil, Led Zeppelin, Hunters & Collectors, the Yardbirds, Link Wray, early AC / DC, Suzi Quatro .”
The disc is indeed a guitar-intensive workout that that showcases McCue’s prodigious guitar talents: “Don’t Go to Texas (Without Me)” commences with a crunching, power-chord riff, and is propelled by her chiming, rippling fills.
“Ol’ Black Sky” is swampy and atmospheric, with McCue employing generous amounts of reverb to conjure a sweltering Southern night out in the backwoods. Then, in the middle section, he unleashes an expansive, intense solo, using a wah-wah pedal for extra Hendrixian effect, and then aggressively skids her fingers down the strings to create a gnarly dissonance. And her vocals are similarly dusky, adding to the overall Southern Gothic effect.
“When I played that solo, I really wanted capture a sense of depth and darkness.” says McCue in her distinctive Aussie accent.
McCue likes to describe her music as “cosmic biker rock”—“you know, on the one hand, being inspired by Gram Parsons’ ‘cosmic country” music, but also marrying that with biker rock, which was also an early influence on me growing up in Australia—bands like Rose Tattoo and early AC / DC.” (She does a cover of Rose Tattoo’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw.”)
On “God’s Home Number,” she also breaks out the reverb, as she revels in Link Wray-style surf-guitar echo. And on the title track, she delivers a bristling, scrappy solo.
On that title song—“Broken Promise Land”—McCue addresses the economic devastation that has hit America since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, and the anger that has resulted from it—and in the process, she exposes the dark side of the American dream. “This country has definitely been going through some tough times, and I wanted to look at that part of the American experience—how a lot of people are now pretty disillusioned about the American dream, how it now feels like a broken promise,” she says.
It’s evident from the strong narratives in her songs, and the images that she conjures, that McCue’s film studies have clearly made their way into her songwriting.
“Yeah, even before I got my film studies degree, I was a huge film buff—some days, I would watch five movies a day. And, I’d still like to be a filmmaker some day. So, when I write songs, I think of them as stories that could be made into films. And, when I write about a place or a person, I can picture them in my head—I want to know what they look like, and communicate that in my songs.”
As for her being a hotshot guitar slinger—a role that, in rock ‘n’ roll, has traditionally been filled by men over the years—McCue does lament that the average rock fan isn’t more familiar with female guitar heroes her age.
“Most people, if you were to ask them who their favorite female guitarists are, they’d say Bonnie Raitt and Nancy Wilson—and they’re both great, but there are a lot of really talented lead guitarists of my generation that people just don’t know about,” says McCue, who self-identifies as a Gen-Xer.
“I hope that will change soon—and I do think that it will.”
And listening to McCue’s records—or catching her live show—is a great place to start.
Kevin Ransom is a freelance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at KevinRansom10@aol.com.