This Lone Justice

"This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983." (Omnivore Recordings (Universal) / January 13, 2014)

Twelve songs recorded straight to two-track, the adrenalized country music on "This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983" captures a fiery band at the beginning of its impressive run. The L.A. country rock band, birthed by vocalist Maria McKee and guitarist Ryan Hedgecock, is best known for its run of near-misses (despite being managed by a young Jimmy Iovine) in the mid-'80s, but before signing with Geffen Records it buzzed through town on the wings of McKee's soprano.

Recorded in the San Fernando Valley, "This Is Lone Justice" introduces McKee & Co. with a combination of covers and originals. Among the classics they tackle are Merle Haggard's "Working Man's Blues," the George Jones/Roger Miller song "Nothing Can Stop My Loving You" and the oft-recorded "Jackson." The song selection suggests a band that had internalized a heck of a lot of country ideas at a young age.

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McKee, after all, was only 18 when this stuff was recorded, and her youth is most obvious in the cut-and-paste Dust Bowl-themed lyrics that dot the originals here. Still, the virtuosity within "The Grapes of Wrath," "Dustbowl Depression Time" and "Soap, Soup and Salvation" presents a confident mix of yowling twang and a heavy backbeat (courtesy of drummer Don Heffington and bassist Marvin Etzioni) that eclipses lesser lines.

Overshadowing all, though, is McKee, whose voice sounds like that of a young Dolly Parton fueled by Exene Cervenka's passion. "Working Man's Blues" especially reveals her natural-born way around a line. It's one thing to hit the notes, another thing altogether to manifest them so completely.

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Lone Justice

"This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983"

(Omnivore Recordings)

31/2 stars