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Maria McKee | High Dive (Viewfinder)
It's been six long years since Maria McKee last released an album, the magnificent 'Life Is Sweet.' That album was a massive, tormented explosion of emotion, wrapped up in edgy, Jesus & Mary Chain guitar, with angry solos and song titles that reflected Maria's inner torment at the time. It certainly was a transformation from the R'n'B and gospel informed 'You've Gotta Sin To Get Saved.' Now, after what seems an eternity, comes 'High Dive,' released on her own label, Viewfinder, and with husband Jim Akin taking over the playing and production duties from Bruce Brody, who had been at the helm for Maria's past three albums. Jim adds bass, guitar, lap steel, keyboards and vocals, as well as writing, producing, recording, mixing and mastering. Busy lad. The change from Brody and Atkin becomes more noticeable as the album progresses. Opening song, To The Opening Spaces, sounds like it came from the 'Life Is Sweet' sessions; clashing guitar riffs and McKee's arching voice howling the chorus, complete with rather off-putting whistling. Second song up is a remake of Life Is Sweet itself. It's a great song - possibly one of my favourite-ever McKee numbers - but I couldn't really see the point of including it, other than to demonstrate that this is how McKee would arrange it now, in her present situation, as opposed to when she initially recorded it in 1996. What becomes apparent throughout 'High Dive,' however, is that McKee has decided to experiment, using styles and instruments and ideas that she wouldn't have trusted years ago; for example, Be My Joy's dirty sax; High Dive's French horn motif. Halfway through, In Your Constellation announces itself as song, constructed both musically and lyrically as if it is part of a rock opera. By this time I was thoroughly confused, but delighted. Upon repeated listening, you realise that 'High Dive' is a giant of an album, a statement of the now but at the same time a distillation of all that is great and good about Maria McKee: the songs have drive, passion, edge, identity, humour. They are, if you like, a re-awakening. Namely, Maria McKee is alive and well and not afraid to do her own thing. Her music has confidence and determination. Fans of 'You Gotta Sin To Get Saved' might not like its quirks and diversions, but this is where she is now. And it a good place. Welcome back, Maria.

John Stacey
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003