Personal, musical, and understated, this Samson Music debut from bassist and singer/songwriter McKinley comes off impressively like an almost-jazz Ani Difranco with passion and depth. The sultry McKinley relies on vocal or lyrical histrionics to get her delicate, vulnerable but assured message across on Big Top Shop Talk. The cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry" is entirely fitting with its plaintive soul-baring, but McKinley's own material makes for far better listening. The dark but restrained tones of the disc's opening tracks (including the standout "Icarus Over Kansas") are maintained through the aforementioned purple makeover and sustained handsomely through the remaining six songs. The finest examples of McKinley's vocal and songwriting prowess on Big Top Shop Talk are the saucy "Could Be Cruel" and the record's spooky closer, "Pillowcase Sail." Soft and silky, smart and refined, Big Top Shop Talk is as direct and accomplished as its ironically tongue-twisting title is muddled and oblique.
AllMusic Review by Jason Anderson