Maria McKee

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

It seems like a lifetime ago that Maria McKee first bounced into the spotlight as the perky vocalist of early-’80s California cowpunk combo Lone Justice. Since then, the singer has charted a singular course in pursuit of her idiosyncratic vision, issuing stylistically eclectic albums that have strayed ever further from the mainstream as they clearly emanated from points nearer to her heart.

Late December, McKee’s sixth studio album and the third fashioned with her husband, guitarist-producer Jim Akin, is front-loaded with the collection’s likeliest crowd-pleasers: the finger-snapping, gospel-soaked title track and the red-blooded R&B of “No Other Way to Love You.” The singer reclaims “A Good Heart,” a smash hit for Irish popster Feargal Sharkey, which she penned at age 18.

McKee’s penchant for theatrical flamboyance kicks in halfway through the disc. Fabulous in a literal sense, “Destine” evokes both Kurt Weill and glam rock. In “My First Night Without You,” it’s hard to tell whether heartstrings are plucked more effectively by violins and chorus or by McKee’s naked emotion. The gleefully bombastic “Scene of the Affair” could almost be an outtake from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, while “Cat on the Wall” offers a more arch strain of cabaret. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith loom large in the anthemic “One Eye on the Sky (One Eye on the Grave).” And it’s hard to imagine anyone but McKee balancing the mordant lyrics and wistful sentiments of “Starving Pretty” with such convincing naturalness. — Steve Smith

Late December (Cooking Vinyl)