Maria McKee. Who is Maria McKee? you may ask. Well, let me tell ya, because you need to know her. Maria McKee is an excellent singer/songwriter. At first known as lead singer/guitarist for the country band Lone Justice, Ms. McKee moved on to a critically acclaimed solo career, now including eight Cds, of which 'Late December' is the latest - and best. Her maturation, both personally and musically, can be traced through each of her solo discs.
McKee's half-brother is the legendary Bryan MacLean of the 1960's cult favorite Love, second only to Love-leader Arthur Lee in that band's writing and singing. I mention this pedigree for two reasons:
first, it's simply cool; second, well, it'll come up later in this review.
Ms. McKee's solo work has never quite caught on in the USA - and shame on us (save for a large cult following, including yours truly), but she is a musical icon in Europe, and has become somewhat of an expatriot, one would imagine, for just that reason (and perhaps a few more).
Known as a folk/alt-country artist throughout most of her career, McKee throws us a marvelous curve-ball in Late December. This is as eclectic and devastatingly wonderful an album as you're likely to hear this year, or any other. And there-in lies the second reason for the Bryan MacLean/Love reference. Just as Love's 'Forever Changes' was their most eclectic, acclaimed album, 'Late December' could well be called her personal 'Forever Changes' - all previous rules out the window and anything and everything goes...and it works to grand effect!
'Late December' begins with a bit of a streetcorner serenade doo-wop feel, beautifully realized and updated ("Late December", "No Other Way to Love You")...loops through the marvelous "Power On, Little Star" into some Bo Didley chunka-chunka ("Too Many Heroes")...and then wallows (beginning with the beautiful "My First Night Without You") in what can best be described as an updated Euro-pop vein, a la Jaques Brel, Serge Gainesbourg, Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht (and, by extension, Scott Walker)...again updated to a new, modern paradigm drawing from those artists - a kind of hardcore, modern rock'n'roll slightly off-Broadway/twisted-Circus that's as modern as it is respectful of said artists. Hell, throw in some Brian Wilson and Bruce Springsteen and Jim Steinman (of Meatloaf fame) as well - they're all in there. I did say eclectic! McKee not only co-produces, but also writes/cowrites and arranges all songs; she also plays guitar and keys, and sings ALL vocals (including back-up, harmony, etc...) - amazing!!
McKee's voice is as capable of a beautiful mid-range vibrato as just about any female singer out there, but she has a secret weapon that she uses sparingly...and when she cuts in that jet-engine-of-a-voice that knows no bounds, she can induce chills, and does.
All of the aforementioned combined with excellent studio players (and co-producer/writer/musician Jim
Akin) adds up to a devastating musical experience, the likes of which you've never, well, experienced.
'Late December' is the best work McKee has ever done, and she's done some damn fine work throughout her career. This disc finds McKee discovering her ultimate purpose - her raison d'etre. Taking the big chance, making the large stroke, and coming up with the Best Album of The Year thus far!
Late December is as original and wonderful an album as you're likely to hear this year, or any other.
Devastatingly grand! A classic in the waiting! My highest recommendation!