Album: Stephanie McKay, Tell It Like It Is (Muthas of Invention)
Stephanie McKay's debut McKay (2003) was one of Geoff Barrow's production projects while escaping from Portishead.
This follow-up is more reflective of her Bronx home, as on "Money" – not avarice, but the need for better housing. It can feel like a pastiche of the 1970s social conscience of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, as her music often does. But then you hear "This Letter"; written after reading letters to husbands in Iraq, its brisk soul harmonies are an affecting contrast to its message: "The President says it's just begun... but you can't wait that long to see your son."
McKay's nostalgia is for New York's early hip-hop days, recalled on "Jackson Avenue". She avoids the hair-shirt moralising rappers can fall into, singing: "I wanna live every moment like I'm out of my head" on the paean to credit-card-maxing "Oh Yeah". "This Letter" aside, there isn't enough grit to make her positivity feel earned, but her rewiring of Willy Mason's "Oxygen" as a Hammond soul hymn confirms an open mind.
Pick of the album:'This Letter', 'Oxygen', 'Oh Yeah', 'Where Did Our Love Go?