Picks and Pans Review: Lone Justice

updated 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Lone Justice

In the rear cabin of a plane carrying the Irish rock group U2 from Houston to Phoenix on one leg of its current U.S. tour, bass player Adam Clayton was sitting in a plush armchair, nodding furiously to himself under his headphones. When he began slapping the arm of the chair with his palm, a writer traveling with the band asked what he was listening to. "Lone Justice," volunteered Bono Hewson, U2's lead singer. "They're going to be opening for us in the second half of the tour. They're from L.A. They rock like you wouldn't believe, but they've got this female singer in a long skirt who sounds like Dolly Parton or something." Suddenly, in that overloud voice symptomatic of the blissfully head-phoned, Adam blurted, "You don't doubt. It's there." He slapped the arm of the chair again. "It's great, man. It's got that sort of Stones rhythm section. It's unbelievable. Wow!" Adam handed the headphones over to the writer, who listened for a few moments and had to agree that "Wow!" was a pretty good word, at least on the basis of a first impression. After a lot more listening, it still seems more than appropriate. Maria McKee does sound something like the early Dolly, also like a less delicate Emmylou Harris. In the ballad Don't toss Us Away (written by McKee's half brother Bryan MacLean, a member of the '60s group Love) her homespun inflections begging her man not to leave the family even recall Willie Nelson. On the other hand, in just about every song she packs the power of a Pat Benatar—without the piercing Benatar edge—and the nerve-tingling self-possession of a Chrissie Hynde. (Not many men would want to be in the shoes of McKee's mistreating lover in Wait Till We Get Home, which she co-wrote with the group's guitarist, Ryan Hedgecock.) The 20-year-old Los Angeles native has clearly absorbed a lot: You can hear momentary flickers of Dylan and Springsteen. But she has also managed to subsume all these influences into an original style that combines the earnest plaintiveness of country with the lashing attack of rock. And there is just the right amount of leavening humor, such as the call-and-response intro to East of Eden or in the rousing, rushing Soap Soup, which was inspired by McKee's childhood experiences with her street-minister father. The band is straightforward, strong and resourceful: An example is Hedgecock concocting a writhing blur of sound to underscore one of McKee's exclamations in Working Late. There may not be an all-around more solid and exciting debut album in pop music this year. (Geffen)

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