The Essentials: Live (Live in Glasgow) by Maria McKee

Oh my. Oh my my. Since Sunday last, my head’s been spinning like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist due not to demonic possession, though some may say just that, but a mind-blowing discovery: Maria McKee’s back catalogue, including the long out-of-print Life Is Sweet and a wealth of UK CD singles/EPs, is now available on the streaming services. My hunch is the releases occurred earlier this year, based on the upload dates on YouTube, so I’m a few months late to the game—as I’m sure many fans are. We own all of her albums and many of the CD singles/EPs, after all, and I long-ago encoded mine as high-octane lossless files and uploaded the albums to my Apple Music library; I had no reason to check what Apple Music had available.

Or so I thought.

Sunday afternoon, however, I had a hankering to hear Maria’s haunting rendition of “Wichita Lineman.” I possessed it years ago on a Maxwell XLII-S cassette procured from, I believe, the Little Diva email group, which I belonged to for a spell; it was tacked on at the end of a crappy-sounding (but great!) audience recording of a concert. In the decades since, the tape—as well as the ability to play it—went the way of most things old tech, but YouTube being YouTube meant there were always fan-uploaded clips to play whenever I was in the mood. But, this day, I found an official clip…

…with an April 28, 2022, upload date. To my ears, it’s a mesmerizing spin on a true classic, the kind of song I can click repeat on again and again. It’s stripped to its roots, just Maria and piano, and includes the kind of background chatter and clinking glasses anyone who’s been at a club show is sure to recognize, though—if memory serves—it was recorded at a house party. The discovery sent me scurrying to the Apple Music app, where I spotted several CD singles I purchased as pricy imports at Tower Records in the early and mid-1990s—though not the “I’m Gonna Soothe You” single with “This Thing (Don’t Lead to Heaven).” The one present features the acoustic demo of “Show Me Heaven” instead.

What caught my eye: Live (Live in Glasgow/1993).

As I quickly discovered, it’s a four-song EP from 1994 that, I imagine, was a UK-only EP that never made it to the bins in Tower Records or Third Street Jazz in Philadelphia, which both carried a heady assortment of imports. (If anyone reading this knows otherwise, feel free to correct me.) It features four performances from what must have been a mesmerizing show in Glasgow at the Pavilion Theatre on November 22, 1993. (The date and location are the claim of Concert Archives, at any rate; discogs.com lists it as December 14th and excludes venue.) The condensed concert opens with the gospel-infused “Why Wasn’t I More Grateful (When Life Was Sweet)” from You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, her then-current album; I’ve always heard the song as a precursor to the song “Life Is Sweet” due to the chorus. The dramatic “This Property Is Condemned,” in which she channels Bruce Springsteen circa The Wild, the Innocent & the E Shuffle, is next; it’s from her 1989 solo debut. A mesmerizing cover of the John D. Loudermilk-penned “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” which she performed quite often that tour, follows. The set concludes with “Nobody’s Child,” also from her debut. About the only thing that could make it better would be if the entire show had been included.

The first thing you’ll notice is the startling clarity of the recording. If you close your eyes, you’ll swear you’re at the foot of the stage. The second thing you’ll notice is the magnetic quality of her vocals; whether she sings at full volume or whispers, you’re drawn in. You’ll want nothing more than to click repeat when the four songs end. It’s an amazing performance that makes me wish I could step through time and land at the TLA in Philly to see her again at this stage of her artistic development.

Here’s the EP in full.

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