Beth McKee found her audience with 2010’s I’m That Way, a rich, jazz-flecked, soulful album of Bobby Charles tunes—a smart move, given Charles’ deep well of beloved and lesser-known material, With 2012’s Next to Nowhere, Beth McKee found her voice.
The percolating accordion and swamp boogie shuffle of the title track speaks to her life stretched across the Gulf Coast. It is as much a zydeco sidewinder as it is a roadhouse blues number while being neither.
Producer Tony Battaglia, husband Juan Perez and subdude Tommy Malone helped McKee flesh out this album of confident, rootsy, adult contemporary numbers reflecting a new self- realization, like Bonnie Raitt with less of the over-polish, Lucinda Williams with her act more together. Maybe Dusty Springfield if she had a weekly honky tonk gig. “I should just enjoy myself with what I have for now” she croons. “No more wastin’ time, hangin’ around this house. It feels like I’m on the verge.”
The breadth of material saves Next to Nowhere from being a middle-aged pat on the back. “Not Tonight, Josephine” is truer-to-form New Orleans piano funk than was found on her Bobby Charles album. “I hate for my job to come between us”, the song’s protagonist offers a lover. “But life is hard when you’re a tactical genius.”
“New Orleans to Jackson” is a glowing ballad about not only the train ride between those two cities, but the difference. “No palm trees swingin’, no music on the corner / Just an old Baptist church with a graveyard by its side.” It’s here where McKee’s low orbit around the South really starts. It is a no-brainer to sing about the good times and bad, melancholia practically sings its own tune, but rarely does ennui get such a glowing treatment.
“River Rush,” a low watt, organ and accordion, churchy groove set over a chorus of crickets, is the true heart of the album. “I need the water,” she enthuses.
“I love its healing touch.” Music, and the humidity and the river and perpetual churn of personal actualization converge, lapping the shore of the song, ready to cut its own channel.
The gregarious blues-diva stomp “Tug of War,” the classic-rock callout “Someone Came Around,” and the wistful gospel-infused piano ballad “Return to Me” fill out the record with charm, radiant warmth and an invitation to join this captivating singer’s journey. “Fall in line / let me love you now” she orders at the album’s close. All you can say to that is “Yes ma’am.”