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Maria McKee


Country of origin:

U.S.

Status:

Most recent release, Live at the BBC (2008); most recent release of new material, Late December (2007)

Type of music generally:

Country and bluesy rock

See also:

Maria McKee's official site

Maria McKee's MySpace page

Comparisons:

Brandi Carlile, Lucinda Williams

Covers/own material:

Own and co-written, some covers

General comments:

When I have to drive I need something strong to keep me fully concentrated and not bored, so I go for Maria McKee, preferably live. (denneuli@lifl.fr)

Maria McKee debuted on vinyl as the lead singer for Lone Justice, and their first album was full of powerful cowpunk tunes that for me was a breath of fresh air in a music scene dominated by synthesizer-heavy New Wave bands. After their second album veered towards less satisfying mainstream rock, Maria then started a solo career with the straightforward country rock on her debut album. Since then she has followed a path that is hard to define. Her next studio albums ranged from bluesy rock (You Gotta Sin to be Saved), to cathartic rock (Life Is Sweet), acoustic Americana (Peddlin Dreams) and rock operas (High Dive, Late December). Whatever her current style, however, her records are always solid, anchored in her expressive vocals; and particularly after her first album, you get the impression that she is following her own muse and doing what she wants to do. In short, she's an original.
     It can be nice to follow an artist though his/her career. I have bought every album of Maria McKee's from the first Lone Justice to the latest High Dive. And for her, it has been a route full of detours, but anyone who can create Life Is Sweet and High Dive has to be recognized as having great talent. (tpierceint@yahoo.com)

I heartily recommend her—her first album in particular (the second one is good too, but not as powerful). In case you don't know, she was the lead singer of Lone Justice—I recommend those albums too!
     She's got a great loud effortless voice with a hint of a country twang. She definitely sounds like she's from the south and grew up listening to Patsy Cline, even though she was born and raised in LA. She now lives in Ireland. She's an excellent songwriter—so if a little bit of country (and I don't usually like country either) in your rock'n'roll doesn't turn you off, I'd recommend starting with Maria McKee (the album—especially the song "Breathe"), and if you like it, check out Lone Justice.
     Her "Wayfarin' Stranger" on The Songcatcher soundtrack is incredible. (jjhanson@att.net)

Comments about live performance:

Finally got to see her live, in a very intimate setting, one of the best shows I've ever seen. (1998, sspan)

What she did with an electric guitar on the last tour is amazing. (2/99, denneuli@lifl.fr)

Maria McKee at the Roxy in Hollywood was my first time seeing her, after having enjoyed her first two solo albums immensely and slowly warming to her third, Life Is Sweet, over the course of several years. She played acoustic and electric guitars, often playing leads and solos (one finger solos that were noisily fun), and also some piano. Also playing with her was a guitarist, a bassist (her husband?), a drummer, and a woman on keys and backing vocals.
     The show wasn't all that I'd hoped for, but it was still good. Maria had some good banter with the crowd and seemed to be having a really fine time performing. I was a bit unnerved by two things, though. First, she seems to really like using her vibrato, to the point where there is no nuance, just straight ahead warbling and keening which I found to be tiring; second, she kept doing this strange, intense, almost Evil stare while singing. Like, she'd be singing along, doo doo dah, and then her eyes would go wide, her brow would furrow, and I'd get the sense that she was Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, ready to wreak some unspeakable horrors upon me.
     These "theatrical" elements to the performance stuck out even more with her new songs and some of the arrangements of old songs, where she sounded like she was going for some '70's Rock Opera sound, a la Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell. That influence is the impression I get from the first couple listens to her new album High Dive as well. (4/03, Paul2k@aol.com)

I've been listening to Maria McKee since I was 12 so seeing her live for the first time involved shaking knees and then a gasp as that vibrato poured out. Over the years she has pulled from country, punk, soul, r'n'b, grunge, and now her theatrical voice has led her deeper into musical theatre, so rich and spilling at the seams as the volume climbs and the vibrato spins wild. With her voice and gypsy dress (extravagant fabric in black and red, tossing her arms as her bracelets slipped down and got in the way of the guitar), Maria was quite a sorceress.
     And then she'd make a wedgie joke, tell us about the festival she'd just played in Sweden (herself, Alice Cooper, 100 Swedish New Wave bands) where she played right after a local star and when the fainting girls fled she was left with 100 middle-aged men, joke that her Irish backing singer was just going to sit there as a piece of performance art, and describe the time a man stopped her show to hold a prayer service for her sick dog.
     She played songs from throughout her career on the piano and guitar, with and without the band—"Shelter", "Wheels", "I've forgotten what it was in you (that put the need in me)", "Breathe", "Life is sweet", "Absolutely barking stars", a deranged "Be my joy' ("only you make me a human"), as well as a few new songs, a Neil Young cover, and one of her brother's songs. (7/07, k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Recommended first album:

I'd recommend starting with Maria McKee (the album—especially the song Breathe), and if you like it, check out Lone Justice. (jjhanson@att.net)

Recordings:


Maria McKee

Release info:

1989—Geffen Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Maria McKee

Guest artists include:

Richard Thomson

Steve Wickham of the Waterboys

Produced by:

Mitchell Froom

Comments:

Maria's first solo album is solid roots/country/folk music but finds her in a holding pattern between her Lone Justice days and her more powerful Life Is Sweet and High Dive albums. While Maria's singing is great, the songs lack the raw energy of the first Lone Justice album, or the raw emotion of Life Is Sweet. I know many people who really like this album, but to me it's too packaged and mainstream. In fact, the Dixie Chicks covered a song from here, "Am I The Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way?)". (tpierceint@yahoo.com)

You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

Release info:

1993—Geffen Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Maria McKee

Guest artists include:

The JayHawks

Some original members of Lone Justice

Produced by:

George Draculious

Comments:

Maria has always been a personal favorite of mine and this album is consistent throughout. Not a bad song on it, but unfortunately no outstanding ones either. (jjhanson@att.net)

at least as good as "Maria" (vickie@enteract.com)

I love it! (Sherlyn Koo)


Life Is Sweet

Release info:

1996

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Produced by:

Maria McKee, Bruce Brody and Mark Freegard

Comments:

I have commented on this album before, so I won't repeat myself. I will only say that this is definitely my favourite Maria McKee album. (Alvin.Brattli@phys.uit.no)

Ultimate Collection

Release info:

2000—Hip-O

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Comments:

I do think that, while far from being the Ultimate Collection, it isn't a bad intro to her work—both solo and with Lone Justice— \the Lone Justice compilation The World is Not My Home is probably better overall. (jjhanson@att.net)

High Dive

Release info:

2003—Viewfinder Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

love her new album. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

I'm listening to Maria McKee's High Dive quite a bit now. It's great on my bad headphones because all those fussy details, every song like an over-written short story from a different collection, disappear. She has so much passion. Just one song, like 'be my joy', contains so much love and happiness and bitterness and self-hatred and funkiness and rock and beauty. Maria has so much colour. I'm so glad to know her music. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Peddlin' Dreams

Release info:

2005

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans

Comments:

I don't know if Maria will ever top Life Is Sweet, but she can keep trying all she wants and I'll keep buying. More hit than miss on this album. (tpierceint@yahoo.com)

Surprisingly not on my best of (not bad, but rather luckluster release). (jjhanson@att.net)


Acoustic Tour 2006

Release info:

2006

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

A really decent live album, sampling some of the best moments from her career—I do wish though they'd trimmed some of the stage banter. (jjhanson@att.net)

Late December

Release info:

2007

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

Maria continues her forays into rock opera and the more experimental, but this album seems to be a good balance between her more experimental side with her more traditional side. After returning to her roots last year with Peddlin' Dreams, a lackluster effort, I was actually much more taken with Late December and its return to edginess. Certainly an artist to follow her own muse, and not necessarily what her fans want. Late December was an album that I've listened to pretty much continuously since it came out, and continue to be surprised by. (jjhanson@att.net)

Further info:

Maria's "If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)" appears on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. "Wayfarin' Stranger" appears on The Songcatcher soundtrack.


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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