Part of my strategic triumvirate of female singers
Born Maria Louise McKee on August 17, 1964, in Los Angeles, California, music was part of Maria's life from the beginning. Her elder half-brother, Bryan MacLean was the singer and guitarist for the band Love, and his influence in part led to Maria pursuing Musical Theatre as a college major. Possessing a powerful and emotive voice, Maria began singing and performing regularly before becoming involved with her first professional musical project, the band Lone Justice.
Although they received some critical acclaim and media attention, Lone Justice managed to fall into the maelstrom of forgotten bands of the 1980s. Remembered for hits like Ways to be Wicked and Sweet, Sweet Baby ('i'm Falling), most tended to lump them in with other burn out and fade away bands with female singers and they were soon forgotten. After two albums, Lone Justice in 1985 and Shelter in 1987, the band decided to throw in the towel. Maria, however, was far from done with her musical career.
Considered to be part of the "roots rock" movement, Lone Justice had blended elements of rock, pop and country into their songs, most of which were penned by Maria. After the band parted ways, Maria's appearance changed dramatically. Most of the photos of Lone Justice have the feel of that whole "hello, we're an 80s pop band" element. Once she departed from this, Maria went back to her roots. In 1989, she released her self-titled solo debut to mixed reviews. Sounding almost like she was experimenting with what her sound "needed" to be than the sound she wanted, the album received a boost when the single "Show Me Heaven" became a hit after being tied into the film Days of Thunder.
To sort things out, Maria moved to Ireland for a while and worked with several well known Irish musicians and became involved with a series of AIDS benefit concerns in Dublin. Her return to the United States in 1992 would be triumphant. She set to work on her second solo album, her best work by far, You Gotta Sin To Be Saved, produced by George Drakoulias, known for bringing The Black Crowes and the Jayhawks to fame and fortune. Although it is a Maria McKee album, three of the four other members of Lone Justice would play on it and the rest of the band would be filled out by members of the Jayhawks. A critical success, it never hit the commercial spotlight.
Fans of the movie Pulp Fiction will find the Maria McKee track If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags) on the soundtrack to the film. It is likely her best known song as a result. This success would lead to her ambitious 1995 release Life is Sweet which would again gain critical praise but became a complete commercial failure. Artsy to a degree and thematic to another, it was not her best work, but it was Maria doing what Maria wanted to do.
It would be almost eight years before her next album. In 2003, Maria would release High Dive, another album that would receive critical praise but see little commercial success.
So, that's the history. Who is Maria McKee? She has a voice that resonates, that can hit you through the spine and make you feel the words rather than listen to them. She is a torch singer with roots in both rock and country. She is an often ignored talent in an era where we reward simplicity and accessibility. She has heart. She has soul. She has a voice. She is the little sister you never had and never deserved.
Sit down and listen to You Gotta Sin to Be Saved if you are in any way interested in the kind of rock and roll we used to have in the early 1970s, the kind of down to earth stuff that is just a girl, a guitar and a feeling. If you don't dig it, I'll buy you a beer the next time I see you at the train station.