Maria McKee

Live Acoustic Tour 2006

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While she's become significantly more productive since leaving the major labels behind, a new album from Maria McKee is still a rare and welcome event, and this modest but beautiful live disc is no exception. Recorded during a stop on a short American road trip McKee undertook in 2006 -- no date, city, or venue listed -- this album features McKee accompanied only by her own guitar and piano, with her friend Susan Otten adding lovely harmonies on a few songs, and it confirms that McKee's voice and muse are still serving her well. McKee has always had a powerhouse voice capable of keeping up with a full rock band, but Live Acoustic Tour 2006 shows she also has the good sense to know when to let loose with an operatic melisma and when to dial down a more subtle approach, and she very rarely oversteps her bounds here, preferring to investigate the nooks and crannies of the songs to moving effect. McKee primarily focuses on her own material, ranging from her Lone Justice years to her most recent studio album, 2005's Peddlin' Dreams, but she also throws in some well-chosen covers, including three songs written by her late brother Bryan MacLean (including a lovely interpretation of "Orange Skies" from Love's Da Capo) and a version of "In the Long Run" from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls that may have started as a joke but plays quite sweetly as a homage to '70s El Lay rock. And when McKee sings "Breathe," "High Dive," or "A Good Heart," there's little question that she's a major artist with a wealth of talent as both a songwriter and a vocalist, and even in the most simple of circumstances she delivers a performance that's moving and deeply evocative; in short, this isn't just another stopgap live album. (And don't skip past the unlisted cover of Neil Young's "Barstool Blues.") ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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