Even in the early days of her solo career, Maria McKee had a penchant for penning dramatic melodies that seemed more conducive to Broadway than to contemporary radio. In fact, the former Lone Justice frontwoman makes reference to criticisms of that theatrical style in between songs on her "Live Acoustic Tour" CD. Pandering to no one, McKee continues to distance herself from her country roots on her sixth studio release, Late December
, writing what might be best described as 'pop-ras,' miniature contemporary pseudo-operas sung in open-throated vibrato. "Destine" is a prime example, echoing Queen's "A Night at the Opera" with it's dramatic vocals and grandiose guitar solo. "Scene of the Affair" evokes a similar sensibility, as McKee mournfully sings "Four walls and a bed/best to let the dead rest with the dead." Those who prefer the old Maria will find a handful of songs to satiate their thirsty musical pallet. "My First Night Without You" has a soul/country cross that allows McKee to vocally shine; other notable moments include the gospel-infused ending to the title track and the infectious '60s Motown styling of "No Other Way to Love You." The one song that will likely please fans of both musical camps is McKee's inclusion of "A Good Heart," a track that she wrote at 18 years of age which became a worldwide hit for an Irish artist named Feargal Sharkey. --Denise Sheppard
McKee's sixth solo album, co-produced with her husband Jim Akin. The album starts off with the spare urban groove of the title track, betraying Akin's passion for hip-hop, but Lone Justice fans need not despair. The rest of the album is boisterous, playful and resplendent with guitar player Jerry Andrew's Dicky Betts meets Jack White retro riffs.