When she first garnered notice fronting Lone Justice, Maria McKee was a little warbler with a big voice, Debbie Reynolds in cowboy boots. Some 15 years later, she’s matured into a pop Rosalind Russell: a gum chewing, raven haired dame who has seen it all. Her voice — still an astounding instrument, a cluster-bomb wail that can blow you out of the room with sheer power — is more than equal to the task, but at the Roxy on the first of a two-night engagement, it failed to generate more than minimal heat.
The music from her new self-released album, “High Dive” (Viewfinder), feels cinematic, with a special kinship with film noir. Emotionally humid, filled with odd angles and discomfiting juxtapositions, the songs are not afraid to ramble down dark alleys.
But in trying to distance herself from Lone Justice’s country soul, the songs have become more cerebral. The arcing melodies and lyrical extremes of “To the Open Spaces” and “Non Religious Building” draw from broad sources, including Pete Townshend and Jacques Brel, and McKee sings them in an intensely declamatory style that’s part Scott Walker and part David Bowie at his most Anthony Newley.
Impressive but chilly, the limitations of this style are thrown into high relief by Lone Justice’s “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” The song’s Laura Nyro soul liberated her, as she sung with a freedom that was lacking elsewhere. Only the slow-burning cover of Springsteen’s “Candy’s Room” equaled it; the tune’s high Roy Orbison drama was a comfortable fit and one ripe for further exploration.