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LONE JUSTICE (Buy CDs by this artist)
Lone Justice (Geffen) 1985
Shelter (Geffen) 1986
MARIA MCKEE
Maria McKee (Geffen) 1989

It isn't that Lone Justice's first album is bad (it's not), but the ballyhoo that preceded the LA quartet's debut raised expectations that these frisky countryfied rock tunes (Linda Ronstadt on speed, perhaps, or Dolly Parton backed by the Blasters) couldn't possibly satisfy. Maria McKee is an impressive young singer — an energetic, throaty powerhouse with a Southern twang and a slight Patsy Cline catch — and the band is solid enough, but Lone Justice, produced by Jimmy Iovine, doesn't come anywhere near extraordinary. Chief songwriter McKee's "A Good Heart," ridden to the top of the British charts in late 1985 by Feargal Sharkey, is far more memorable than anything she penned for her own first record.

Little Steven (a guest on the first album) co-produced Shelter with Iovine and Lone Justice, helping the almost-entirely overhauled group (here a loud, vibrant sextet with ex-Patti Smith Grouper Bruce Brody on keyboards) to nail down a dynamic sound that's something like the articulate passion of an old Van Morrison record, pumped up by McKee's gospelly fervor and walloping modern drums. Van Zandt also co-wrote some of the songs, which are far more subtle than before. The first album's religious content is supplanted here by heartfelt emotions about love, faith and morality. Without burying her beliefs, McKee universalizes them in ways that don't require listeners to share anything beyond humanity and sensitivity.

[Karen Schoemer]