Forgotten Albums: Maria McKee, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

To date, the Forgotten Albums series has been about lifting up recordings I’ve listened to time and again over the years that I believe are under-appreciated. This entry’s different, in that I’m the one who was doing the forgetting.

After I wrote up a little about Dusty Springfield a couple of weeks ago, I sought out her highly-regarded Dusty in Memphis LP on YouTube. It’s amazingly good, definitely worthy of purchase. When its last song came on, I thought, “I know I’ve heard this somewhere else before,” though I couldn’t immediately place it…

One quick internet search later, I was reaching for a CD on a shelf in my basement, one that to my complete discredit hadn’t graced a player for maybe a quarter-century: Maria McKee’s second solo release, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved. I popped it in and immediately forwarded to track six (which I hadn’t realized was written by King/Goffin). Yes, this is what I was thinking of:

After the song finished, I let the rest of the album play out. Two thoughts dominated: 1) how had this never gotten into serious rotation? and 2) this sure sounds like a lost Jayhawks album in places.

I can’t defend myself regarding the first, but the second came with good reason: Gary Louris and Mark Olson, then the Jayhawks’ co-leaders, are part of McKee’s backup band this go-round, and also contributed one of the songs. The album was produced by George Drakoulias, who’d vaulted into fame of sorts by working with the Black Crowes a few years earlier. Drakoulias also produced my two favorite Jayhawks albums, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which bracket You Gotta Sin in time.

I got the McKee album very soon after it was released in the summer of 1993. Alas, it’d been put to pasture by the time those Jayhawks releases were added to my collection a couple of years later; I guess it was already too late to make the connection. That’s true no longer, though–I’ve played most of the songs from You Gotta Sin several times over the last week, so now I’m here to share a few highlights.

Leading off is the single that didn’t go anywhere, “I’m Gonna Soothe You.” That was a collective mistake on all our parts.

“My Girlhood Among the Outlaws” wouldn’t have been out of place on Hollywood Town Hall–it’s got some signature Louris licks–had they allowed McKee to take over the mic for one song.

The album was also an excuse to reunite with Marvin Etzioni and Don Heffington, two guys from the first iteration of Lone Justice (Etzioni has co-writing credit on three songs here). “Only Once” almost feels like an outtake from Lone Justice.

McKee also covers a couple of Van Morrison tunes: “My Lonely Sad Eyes,” from his days in Them, and Astral Weeks‘s “The Way Young Lovers Do.” The latter simply swirls around you.

In summary, mea culpa. I suppose now it’s time to seek out the albums in McKee’s catalog I’ve missed over the years…

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