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Maria McKee's musical beauty grows and deepens

The Roxy, West Hollywood, Cal., April 25, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA Maria McKee sounds like a dramatic Broadway baby on her newly released "High Dive" album, and while that recorded move doesn't make for a comfortable repertoire/artist fit, the singer/songwriter appeared to be perfectly at ease on this second evening of her two-night Sunset Strip club stand.

In a show, which mixed a lot of the old in with the new, McKee and that amazing voice of hers strung together a highly entertaining stream of songs.

McKee opened up with her cover of the Goffin/King "I Can't Make It Alone," which filled this club with the twang-y musical goodness we've grown to love hearing from this Southern California native. She then followed that up with "To The Open Spaces" (from the new album). Due to its simple guitar-bass-drum-keyboard live band arrangement, this take of the song was far more directly appealing than it is on the album. She also found open spaces, so to speak, for a few other new tracks, including "In Your Constellation," "From Our TV Teens To The Tomb" and "Something Similar." All of these, without exception, were significantly improved upon in concert.

This was a show that also briefly touched upon McKee's work with her groundbreaking band Lone Justice. In fact, she sang the single "Shelter" only three songs into the show, and also performed a beautiful "Dixie Storms," accompanied only by her own piano playing.

McKee alternated back and forth between playing guitar, and sitting at the piano. She forewarned the audience at the very beginning that she would be doing a lot of standing up and sitting down throughout the night. To which someone shouted out, "Just like church." She replied by saying that she sure hoped this concert experience would feel like church.

And while a Sunday morning service wasn't the first comparison to come to mind, hearing McKee's singing can be nevertheless be likened to a spiritual experience of some sort. One can only imagine what an album of spirituals would sound like in the hands of this special artist, by the way.

"High Dive" represents McKee's first full-length album in approximately seven years. She kidded about the simplicity of the stage setting - with its small amp only a few guitars at her disposal - and blamed this scaling down on the fact that she's gone indie with this new album. She never explained to the audience exactly what she'd been doing during her long seven year silent stretch, but she certainly talked often and openly with her adoring audience. She looks a little chunkier now than she did in her youthful days with Lone Justice. And although she's obviously matured as a woman since than, the beauty and enthusiasm of her delightful singing has not changed one bit over the years. If anything, it's only deepened and grown.

McKee may have made a few missteps regarding artistic styles and substance over the years, but in concert, it's easy to forget all that. That's because when she opens her mouth to sing, it's always an unforgettable experience.

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