In 1989 the debut album by my favorite female singer Maria McKee was released. Following the Lone Justice adventure finally new music from McKee again. A look back.
Maria Luisa McKee, born August 17th, 1964, is an American singer-songwriter. When she was about seven years old, she was asked to sing a psalm in front of her sundayschool class. She immediately knew that this was something she could do, that people listened to. Because her half-brother Bryan MacLean played in the legendary band Love, she witnessed live shows from very early on. At 19 years old she was recognized as a major talent with her own band, Lone Justice.
Maria McKee’s story can not be told without mentioning Lone Justice. On November 5th, 2016, I published the story Lone Justice, an introduction to Maria McKee about the band. Click on the link.
Originally Lone Justice started out as a cow-punk band, that slowly yet undeniably evolved into a country and pop band. The band didn’t choose the change and wasn’t too happy with it. Least of all Maria McKee, who lost control of her music and band along the way. Desillusioned she pulled the plug on the band.
Luckily I witnessed the band, and McKee in particular, live at the 1987 Pinkpop festival in The Netherlands. The band was added to the line-up at the last minute, due to the cancellation of The Mission. Open mouthed we stared at the storm McKee unleashed. Unforgettable!
From that moment on I bought everything that was released by Lone Justice and Maria McKee. Her voice was a revelation, powerful, rooted in the country tradition, strong and fragile. Beautiful.
In 1987 she worked on the album Robbie Robertson, the solo debut album by the former The Band member Robbie Robertson. She also plays a part in the video to the Robbie Robertson single Somewhere Down The Crazy River.
Maria McKee, the album
Even though Maria McKee herself wasn’t too thrilled about it, it was still obvious to everyone she personified Lone Justice. Not only because she was the face of the band, but also because of her writing skill(s). Thus, it made perfect sense she was offered a solo deal.
Just 22/23 years old, an entire career behind her already, McKee started writing songs for her first solo album. She would later comment that she sounds like an “eloquent woman in her forties… some songs can move me to tears”. I think she describes it perfectly. Given her age, the subjects are heavy and compassionate. A lot of songs deal with love, loneliness and lacking.
The album shows that McKee had grown as a writer and singer, and had, for lack of a better word, matured. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that the songs and performances are really moving and connect to reality. A disadvantage is that the initial rawness and romance had somewhat faded into the background.
The lyrical content of the album is summed up pretty well in Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way?):
There Is No Good Reason
I Should Have To Be So Alone
I’m Smothered By This Emptiness
Lord I Wish I Was Made Of Stone
Like I Fool I Lent My Soul To Love
And It Paid Me Back In Change
God Help Me
Am I The Only One Who’s Ever Felt This Way?
© 1989 Maria McKee
Robbie Robertson wasn’t the only one who was charmed by McKee. A legion of big names would participate on her first solo album, like Shane Fontayne, Jim Keltner, Tony Levin, Marc Ribot, Jerry Scheff, Richard Thompson and The Waterboys‘ Steve Wickham.
I don’t need too many words for this. McKee is my favorite female singer for a reason. The songs have a great atmosphere. Melancholy, resignation, sadness and hope are closely intertwined. Emotion abound, just listen to the heart wrenchingly beautiful Has He Got A Friend For Me?. I love these kinds of albums, though I fully realize it’s not for everyone. But for every one who loves singer-songwriter music with a country twist this album is essential and comes highly recommended.
In 1989 3 singles were culled from the album, the last two being Europe-only releases. In 1991 Breathe was also released as a single, which was only available in England.
- I’ve Forgotten What It Was In You (That Put The Need In Me)
- Nobody’s Child
- To Miss Someone
All songs written by Maria McKee, unless stated otherwise.
- I’ve Forgotten What It Was In You (That Put The Need In Me)
- To Miss Someone
- Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way?)
- Nobody’s Child #
- Panic Beach
- Can’t Pull The Wool Down (Over The Little Lamb’s Eyes)
- More Than A Heart Can Hold ^
- This Property Is Condemned *
- Breathe ~
- Has He Got a Friend for Me? $
- Drinkin’ in My Sunday Dress
# Maria McKee, Robbie Robertson
^ Bruce Brody, Maria McKee
* Bruce Brody, Maria McKee, Patrick Sugg, Gregg Sutton
~ Maria McKee, Gregg Sutton
$ Richard Thompson
- Maria McKee – guitar, piano, vocals
- Alejandro “Alex” Acuña – percussion
- Bruce Brody – keyboards, Hammond orgel
- Shane Fontayne – guitar
- Mitchell Froom – keyboards
- Heart Attack Horns – horn
- Jim Keltner – drums
- Tony Levin – bass
- Jerry Marotta – drums
- Philip Pickett – crumhorn
- James Ralston – guitar
- Marc Ribot – guitar
- Jerry Scheff – bass
- Greg Sutton – vocals
- Richard Thompson – guitar, mandolin
- Steve Wickham – fiddle
After Maria McKee
The album was surprisingly unsuccessful, and could even be called a flop in the US. In Europe however, the album was lauded, particularly by critics. Maria McKee decided to move to Ireland.
In June 1990 Maria McKee released the single Show Me Heaven, as part of the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise movie Days Of Thunder. It’s a so-called power-ballad, a genre of music I usually shun. But, this song is rather beautiful, McKee’s vocals are heartfelt and impressive. The song was a huge success (it even went to number one in the Dutch charts). It also marks the last time McKee had a hit, wrongly leaving the impression she is a one hit wonder.
Homesickness made her return home and reach out to former Lone Justice members. Together they made the beautiful You Gotta Sin To Get Saved album, McKee’s second solo-album.
Since her debut Maria McKee has released five more studio and two live albums. The 1996 album Life Is Sweet marks a turning point in her career. The country she was known for, had been replaced by an agressive rock sound, with McKee playing guitar by herself, pretty roughly. The album was badly received and was the last one to be released by a major record company.
From the High Dive album onwards she released her albums on her own label, Viewfinder Records. Beautiful albums that see her returning to her country roots and mixing them with americana.
- Maria McKee (1989)
- You Gotta Sin To Get Saved (1993)
- Life Is Sweet (1996)
- High Dive (2003)
- Peddlin’ Dreams (2005)
- Late December (2007)
- Live in Hamburg (2004)
- Live – Acoustic Tour 2006 (2006)
In 2000 and 2003 compilation albums Maria McKee – Ultimate Collection and 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Maria McKee were released. In 2008 the live album Live At The BBC, containing live recordings from 1991 and 1993, was released.
In the meantime McKee has focused on filming, together with her husband Jim Akin, who is a film maker and musician. In 2013 she debuted in After The Triumph Of Your Birth, whose soundtrack was released in 2012. In 2015 the movie The Ocean Of Helena Lee was released, which also produced a soundtrack. This year the movie Beauty Majesty And Terror will be released, which will see McKee playing her first leading role.
What do you think about Maria McKee the singer and Maria McKee the album? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Maria McKee releases her beautiful debut album. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Maria McKee (Lone Justice) image: lisareisman.photos
Lone Justice – Lone Justice & Maria McKee – Maria McKee images: amazon.com
Maria McKee – Maria McKee – Singles & Maria McKee – Maria McKee – Backcover images: discogs.com
Maria McKee – Maria McKee – Promo image: picssr.com
Maria McKee – Maria McKee – Promo set image: eil.com