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Maria McKee

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After making her name as the gritty, soulful lead singer of roots rockers Lone Justice, Maria McKee embarked on an often-rewarding solo career. A native of Los Angeles, McKee was born in 1964; her half-brother was Bryan MacLean, the guitarist and sometime singer of the groundbreaking psychedelic band Love. After studying musical theater as a teenager, McKee started performing on the L.A. club scene in a duo with MacLean and also teamed up with local blues singer Top Jimmy (who inspired the Van Halen song of the same name). A roots-music scene sprang up in L.A. during the early ‘80s, and McKee, a country music fan, met like-minded guitarist Ryan Hedgecock; the two co-founded Lone Justice in 1982, and with McKee often composing material, the group became a local favorite. They signed with Geffen on the recommendation of Linda Ronstadt, but in spite of highly positive media attention, their two albums - 1985’s Lone Justice and 1986’s Shelter - failed to sell well, hampered by slick production and a sense of not-quite-fulfilled potential. McKee went solo after the latter record and released her self-titled debut in 1989, with Mitchell Froom producing.

McKee scored a critical breakthrough with her second album, 1993’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, which was helmed by Black Crowes/Jayhawks producer George Drakoulias. Its rootsy, countrified rock and McKee’s ever more powerful vocals led many reviewers to call it her most fully realized work to date. She went on to contribute the song “If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)” to the hit soundtrack of Pulp Fiction, and in 1996 she released a third solo album, the much artier Life is Sweet, on which she played all the guitar parts. McKee subsequently took a hiatus from recording, during which time she extricated herself from her deal with Geffen in search of greater creative control. She finally returned in 2003 with another ambitious record, High Dive. In 2004, McKee issued Live in Hamburg, her first released concert outing. It was followed by Peddlin’ Dreams in 2005 and Live Acoustic Tour 2006. Late December appeared in 2007 from Cooking Vinyl Records.

Pandering to no one, McKee continues to distance herself from her country roots on her sixth studio release, Late December (2007), writing what might be best described as ‘pop-ras’, miniature contemporary pseudo-operas sung in open-throated vibrato. “Destine” is a prime example, echoing Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” with its dramatic vocals and grandiose guitar solo. “Scene of the Affair” evokes a similar sensibility, as McKee mournfully sings “Four walls and a bed/best to let the dead rest with the dead.” Those who prefer the old Maria will find a handful of songs to satiate their thirsty musical pallet. “My First Night Without You” has a soul/country cross that allows McKee to vocally shine; other notable moments include the gospel-infused ending to the title track and the infectious ‘60s Motown styling of “No Other Way to Love You”. The one song that will likely please fans of both musical camps is McKee’s inclusion of “A Good Heart”, a track that she wrote at 18 years of age which became a worldwide hit for an Irish artist named Feargal Sharkey.

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