Picks and Pans Review: You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Maria McKee

The quality that makes Maria McKee such a gifted performer is also the very quality that has, so far, kept her from breaking out commercially. Her style is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, part pop and part folk. Because McKee's music is a wonderful mix, it's nearly impossible for her to crack the strict formats at most radio stations. Hence, few people get the chance to sample the sounds of a woman who is among the best vocalists and songwriters in the business.

The former lead singer for Lone Justice, the country-ish rock band from Los Angeles that had a few minutes of fame in the mid-1980s, McKee has a voice supple enough to call to mind Emmylou Harris and Aretha Franklin in the space of a few breaths. This second solo album is her most satisfying work to date. It's not just the way she can slink from a soulful, horn-laden tune such as "I'm Gonna Soothe You" to a mournful country number like "Only Once"; it's also how her evocative vocals convey the pain in songs of love and loss that make this record so special.

In "My Girlhood Among the Outlaws," a moving tale of a woman who finds happiness after a series of bad affairs, McKee's voice quavers ever so slightly as she vows that "if it took those years to get me here/ I'd do it again for you." And she turns her tune "Why Wasn't I More Grateful (When Life Was Sweet)" into a lofty church hymn, making it a song of hope despite the downbeat title.

You may not find You Gotta Sin to Get Saved on a Top 40 chart near you, but the depth and diversity of this record make it well worth owning. (Geffen)

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