Anne McCue describes her new album, Broken Promise Land, due out on May 18, 2010 on Flying Machine Records Records, as “a bit dirty, a bit rockin’, a bit swampy and a bit bluesy, with a touch of mysteriousness to it.”
What isn’t mysterious is McCue’s musical talent and range. She was voted the Roots Music Association’s Folk Artist of the Year in 2008, performed in a Jimi Hendrix tribute at the 2007 International Guitar Festival and was included in the Four Decades of Folk Rock box set alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Wilco. Heart’s Nancy Wilson has described her as “my Aussie clone,” while Americana icon Lucinda Williams had this to say: “Initially, her stunning voice hooked me in. Then I got inside the songs. The first chance I got, I went to see her perform . . . I was floored! The combination of her tomboyish beauty mixed with the precision and assertiveness with which she approached the guitar, her surrounding languid and earthy vocals created an intoxicating blend.”
The new, self-produced album is one that she has long wanted to make. Combining heartfelt songwriting with gritty guitar playing, the record harkens back to McCue’s breakout Roll release, although she says that the new disc’s sound is even more raw than its predecessor. While earlier albums covered a range of roots-rock styles, Broken Promise Land focuses on McCue’s hard-charging “cosmic biker rock” sound.
The new disc lets McCue showcase her rockin’ ways and six-string virtuosity. The title track cuts loose with a blistering Hendrix-like bluesy guitar solo. The first single, “Don’t Go To Texas (Without Me),” boasts the dirty guitar sound of late ’60s English bands like the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, while “The Old Man Talkin’” exudes a slinky J.J. Cale vibe.
The music’s strong, visceral energy results from a strategy to record as much as possible live. “I didn’t want to have a lot of layers. I wanted it to be pretty much what I can do on stage,” McCue asserts. She sought to capture the vibe of the old Albert King albums that she loves, which were recorded in only a few days, and she included a brass section in the sessions. By recording to tape, McCue also created the textures and dimension that she admires in T-Bone Burnett’s work.
On Broken Promise Land, McCue utilized the veteran rhythm section of Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil) and drummer Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo/Wilco). “Bones and Ken are very developed as musicians,” she says. “It’s great to have that type of depth to the musicianship.” This powerful trio demonstrates their musical breadth throughout this disc, whether it’s building “The Lonely One” into a surging rock ballad, conjuring a spooky atmosphere in Amelia White’s “Motorcycle Dream” or roaring through a cover of Rose Tattoo’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Outlaw.”
McCue’s love for music was nurtured in Sydney, Australia, where she grew up in a house filled with music. Her father, while not a professional musician, played a variety of instruments and her mother sang in the church choir. All of her seven older siblings were heavily into music too, and sounds ranging from Billie Holiday to Led Zeppelin filled the McCue home. “Every type of music except hardcore blues,” the blues-loving McCue admits, “so I definitely didn’t get burned out on it as a child.”
Although McCue played guitar growing up, she wasn’t encouraged to be a musician. A longtime film buff, she got a degree in film studies at Sydney’s University of Technology. Her cinema studies are an influence. “To me, my songs are like short films,” she reveals, “I try to be very visual and cinematic with my music and now I am making videos for the songs too.”
After college, McCue joined an all-female band, Girl Monstar, which was very popular in the Australian indie rock scene. She later became a part of the folk-rock trio Eden AKA that performed on the Lilith Fair tour and recorded a never-released album for Columbia Records. Her ill-fated Columbia experience landed her in America, where she set up shop in Los Angeles and became a vital part of the city’s roots music scene. During her time in Southern California, she recorded two attention-grabbing albums — 2004’s Roll and 2006’s Koala Motel.
Both releases accumulated a bevy of critical accolades. Entertainment Weekly exclaimed that McCue “represents a new generation of hard-bitten, country-inflected singer-songsmiths,” while Billboard heralded her as “the virtual definition of ‘triple threat.’ A potent singer, thoughtful songwriter and tough guitarist.” Austin Chronicle critic Jim Caligiuri noted that “these days, there are very few women working the same territory as McCue, who can combine tough and vulnerable. That she does it with poise and a self-deprecating sense of humor makes her an artist worth seeing again.”
A few years ago, McCue moved to Nashville, a place she finds quite fertile for making music. “There’s more room to think, more creative space,” she explains, “but there are so many great musicians that it really raises the bar and makes you want to get better.” Last year, she self-produced a limited-distribution acoustic album, East of Electric, on which she played a variety of instruments. A terrific example of her folkier side, it stands as a quiet side-trip to the full-bodied rock ferocity that Broken Promise Land delivers.