Maria McKee joked about seeing a picture of herself in the dressing room of McCabe’s. It had been taken 20 years earlier, when she was singing lead for Lone Justice, then one of the hottest bands in L.A., when the promise of fame and riches lay ahead of her. Two decades later, she’s in a far more comfortable place, unconcerned about how many copies her new record will sell and traveling with a band that includes her husband. In 75 minutes, she delivered a lively career overview, touching on roots-rock origins, her initial solo success and her current foray into a sound that borders on contempo Broadway. Her voice, brawny and controlled, bonded it all together.
The centerpiece is “Late December,” the title track from McKee’s April release on Cooking Vinyl. The recording has a majesty to it — the production is a cross between Phil Spector, Dionne Warwick and gospel; McKee and band provided room for its lyrical poetry to breathe in its stripped-down form at McCabe’s. The sparseness with which McKee and her band approached the material only enhanced the strength of her songwriting; Lone Justice material such as “Shelter” had the benefit of familiarity but felt small against the newer, more theatrical works.
McKee also tipped the cap to her half-brother, the late Brian MacLean (Arthur Lee’s right hand man in Love who became a Christian rocker), by performing one of his Byrds-ian religious numbers. She also performed, solo at the piano, Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues,” smoothing the edges of his recorded version to bring the focus squarely on the cryptic lyrics.
McKee performs July 23 and 24 at Joe’s Pub in New York.