Beth McKee, former member of gumbo rock band Evangeline, possesses a bold and irrepressible voice that sounds as richly textured as the Louisiana bayou. Her voice isn’t her only instrument. She’s also a whirlwind on the piano. Yet, the earthiness of her voice is unmistakable, and operates on I’m That Way as a supreme asset in taking on the material of the great southern United States songwriter Bobby Charles. Robert Charles Guidry passed away on January 14, 2010, and Ms. McKee’s selections from his songbook continue to honor him.
Standouts from the Bobby Charles legacy are here (“See You Later, Alligator”, “But I Do”, “Small Town Talk”), charged with vigor from Ms. McKee’s vocal chops and set ablaze with horns from her band. She succeeds in sidestepping the usual question that accompanies remakes and covers, which is, “What’s the point?” Here, the point is to connect with the spirit of the songwriter and to celebrate the New Orleans, Louisiana, heritage that informs the music.
Sometimes she goes in heavier and harder than do the originals. Compare McKee’s “Walking to New Orleans” to Fats Domino’s version. At other times, she’s lighter and more open, as in her take on “But I Do” compared to Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s big band rendition that everyone heard on the Forrest Gump soundtrack. The album’s highlight, however, is the opener, “I Spent All My Money Lovin’ You”, an edgy bundle of raucous regret that McKee leans into with aplomb.
A couple of tracks are a tad sluggish, and then there is a feeling of sameness, in terms of sound and style, that pervades the sequencing. Although one listener’s “sameness” is another’s “cohesion”, there is a consistency of mood that feels immovable across a sequence of song lyrics that suggest variety. The sameness is due mostly to tempo and the inclusion of horns galore, despite how authentic the horn section is when it comes to evoking the feeling of being there. Beth McKee has been there, all right. What she does while she’s there is fun in the right spots and danceable to boot. A fitting tribute.