Justice served

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Lone Justice has become a pointless reference. Think instead of a kinder, gentler Life Is Sweet, with a nod toward Broadway. That's who McKee wants to be these days--much to the delight of one audience member who screamed for her hand in marriage halfway through the set, and to the delight of 600 or so others who gave her a standing ovation after closing with an arresting solo-acoustic version of "Shelter."

McKee says she's preparing to make an album her way, selecting a dozen or so of her 30 or 40 recent compositions--among them a new version of "Life is Sweet," maybe the best song she's ever written--and recording them in her own bedroom studio with Akin and other musicians of her choice and a production sensibility of her own. She talks of maybe shopping it around, but is considerably more enthusiastic about the potential for a self-release. But she refuses to speculate too much.

"I know I need to make it first," she says. "Because I don't want anyone telling me how to make it. Those days are over. It doesn't have to be that way."

McKee is well aware of the price she paid for that attitude on Sweet. She's also well aware of what she--and her listeners--have gained.

"I lost a record deal, I lost some of my critical standing here in my hometown," she says. "There's some very prominent people in the press that won't even come to my shows anymore. They're old fuddy-duddies, but still, it's like, 'Oh, gee--you used to think I was the bee's knees.' I'm enjoying being this focused now, taking what I started with Life Is Sweet and following through on it, which I've never done before. All my albums have been vastly different, and this, I really believe, is kinda flowing naturally from me now.

"I was the new kid on the block once upon a time, and people were excited about me and there was a huge buzz. And everybody sort of keeps that moment. But then you have someone like Neil Young who disappears, falls out of fashion, and suddenly he's 50 years old and he's an institution. I'm not in any rush.

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Neal Weiss