Listen Up: Wednesday, June 08, 2005
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Maria McKee

Peddlin’ Dreams
(Eleven Thirty Records)

By Jimmy Fowler

If ever there was a textbook example of the perils of having too much talent, it can be found in the career of singer-songwriter-guitarist Maria McKee. She skyrocketed to critical acclaim (and a very brief flirtation with chart success) in 1985 as the whirling-dervish frontwoman for Lone Justice, the short-lived West Coast cow-thrash outfit. The ensuing 20 years have seen her cultivate a passionate European audience but drift stateside through club tours and one hazy, tentative recording project after another. Producers have hurled orchestral strings, slide guitars, synthesizers, and gospel choirs into the mix, rarely to hinder her staggeringly sincere voice — a seamless countrified fusion of intimate yearning and majestic wrath — but never focusing it beyond a disconnected series of beautiful moments plotted across each album. After a brief stint with her own label — co-created by her husband and co-producer, Jim Akin — she has now signed with artist-friendly Eleven Thirty Records and released the rootsy, doom-tinged Peddlin’ Dreams. Fans who thought McKee got lost after the righteous You Gotta Sin To Get Saved should relish these dozen tunes, mostly understated piano- or guitar-based concoctions with wistful melodies. There is a pronounced anxious melancholy here that supersedes the wry joy in You Gotta Sin, and McKee, who knows how to make elegant use of the breaks and catches in her singing, turns her own fairly purple sentiments (“Will you remember how your stormy face was tangled in my hair?” she wonders in the folksy “Season of the Fair”) into mature, even authoritative musings. The title track has her sailing into “the perils of phony saviors,” lyrical territory against the drowsy backbeat of punchy drums. “Horse Life” employs beguiling girl-group “whoah-oh-whoahs” and a serenely happy attitude from McKee that continues into a radiant Lieber-Stoller knockoff, “You Don’t Know How Glad I Am,” which features her playfully stuttering the title. She glows warm and dark throughout Peddlin’ Dreams, content, for the moment, to relax and luxuriate in her peerless abilities.


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