Along with the Podcast that I’m doing with my buddy Rod, I will also throw in some album reviews from some of my favorites over the years.
This entire album is as ingrained in my musical vocabulary as “Free Bird” or “Don’t Stop Believing” is for the casual radio hits listener. It’s backed by an amazing group of musicians and her songs range from 90’s era pop, twangy country, to a heavy dose of 1960’s love songs.
Maria McKee’s 1993, You Gotta Sin To Get Saved, is a great album with a very well put together tracklist. It’s backed by two of my favorite musicians from The Jayhawks, Mark Olson and Gary Louris. From the various, glorious, backing vocals to the albums producer, George Drakoulias, playing drums on tracks 4 & 6, it’s layered with amazing musicians.
This album is a bit of departure for me in that it’s all written from the female perspective of love, loss, and the frailties of her relationships. That’s not to say that I can’t relate but, I generally am not this comfortable singing a song with lyrics like “My girlhood among the outlaws”, but for this album I do it with glee.
It’s such a personal collection of songs that that I’ve always felt like I was on the other side of the mic as Maria McKee sang the lyrics directly to me. It’s as thought I was part of the narrative. Along with the touching lyrics, the cover photo by Dennis Hopper, yes The Dennis Hopper, completed me falling in love with her and this album.
Here’s the tracklist and my take away from each one. You may get something different out of it but here’s what 25 years of listening to it have given me. Click the song title of each one to go to a video or audio link to get a taste of this beautiful album. I would also suggest buying it and listening to it front to back, the way an album should be listened to.
“I’m Gonna Soothe you” – Probably the most produced sounding track on the album, it’s a solid, pop, love song. Great backing harmonies by the Waters sisters, Julia and Maxine, and Edna Wright while Don Was fills in on bass. I prefer the rest of the albums “lived in” feel to this one but, it’s still a great track.
“My Lonely Sad Eyes” – Originally written and performed by Van Morrison, McKee takes this tune and smooths it out a little and adds her flair to it. It’s not a huge departure from the original but, in the case of a Van Morrison song, that’s as big a compliment I can give. Gary Louris again adds some beautiful country note bends and fuzzy, full strummed chords that help really move it along.
“My Girlhood Among The Outlaws” – Written by McKee, it’s a look back at the mistakes and eventual path that took her to where she, and we, needed to arrive. The forth verses lyrics a so cleverly written I can recite them at the drop of a hat. “So here we are, and I don’t know what to call it. Cause love, love is such a funny promise. Commitment is impossible, forever is a lie. But that still leaves you and I”. Wrap those words around a beautifully written melody and she rips your heart out each time you play it.
“Only Once” – This little beauty is a dash of Gram Parsons wrapped in country flavored song about that one true love. Backing vocals on this one are done by The Posies co founders John Auer and Ken Stringfellow. “I will love you till I’m saved, I will love you from my grave. And love like this can happen only once, only once.”
“I Forgive You”– Another Waters sisters backed song that wouldn’t work without the call and response throughout the gut wrenching lyrics. Written by Maria McKee and Sam Brown, you can feel the desire and pain of the love they poured into this one. Coming out of the bridge she sings “I know he hurts me, I hurt him, sometimes I don’t deserve him, but he loves me, and I love him, and this is how we are..” while the Water sisters come in with “It’s all right, I’ll take you back again”. And 25 years later I still get goosebumps from there through the end of the song.
“I Can’t Make It Alone” – Written by Carole King, this song is beautifully sung by Maria McKee in the spirit that it was written in. Gary’s guitar playing on this one is as distinctive as the backing vocals he contributes. Between McKee and Louris, their harmonies really punch up this song to a powerhouse.(I’m not 100%, but I think that Mark Olson is in the mix as well) I would love to see another album collaboration between Maria and Gary & Mark again. (I’d gladly volunteer my rhythm guitar skills so they could focus on songwriting, haha)
“Precious Time” – This song was originally recorded by The Jayhawks for their album Tomorrow The Green Grass but this version seems to give it new life. Now I have only heard the demos from The Jayhawks but I doubt it could hear it any other way than with Maria taking the lead role and Mark Olson on harmony.
“The Way Young Lovers Do” – Another Van Morrison song that Maria takes a hold of a rips through with Van Morrison’s passion and dominance of the vocal runs. The Memphis Horns, of pretty much all the Stax Records hits, add a huge brass element that come in and out at just the right places.
“Why Wasn’t I More Grateful (When Life Was Sweet)” – Written with her Lone Justice band mates, Bruce Brody and Marvin Etzioni, it’s a biting lament with an upbeat tempo that, oddly, match perfectly. While I couldn’t find the exact tracks that he’s on, I feel like Benmont Trench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame is probably the guy hitting that Organ.
“You Gotta Sin To Get Saved” – A ruckus tune that reminds me of the vocal feel and energy of The Ronettes 1964, “Be My Baby”. It has a very live sound complete with hand claps, by Nicole Smith??, and some very enthusiastic back up vocals. It ends the album as a perfect book end and closes out the 10 track journey.
There are musicians that I didn’t get a chance to mention on here, mostly because I’m not 100% sure of who played what. Everyone that contributed is felt throughout the album and each piece is perfectly laid.
(Side note: The photos I used are from the CD copy I had Mark Olsen and Gary Louris sign while in town for a show. More on that in another review.)