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Record Review 

In 1996, feeling confined as alt-country's poster child, Maria McKee committed commercial and critical suicide with the release of Life Is Sweet, on which she sounded more like PJ Harvey than Emmylou Harris. It cost McKee her contract with longtime label Geffen.

Now, seven years later, McKee has released the album she's always wanted to release -- on her own Viewfinder label. The results, unfortunately, show that she could use some of the major-label guidance imposed on her in the past.

An ambitious record, High Dive is ultimately a disappointment. It clearly shows McKee's tremendous talent, but it suffers from over-production and lack of focus. "Non Religious Building" sounds like a Styx outtake, while "Love Doesn't Love" has the sort of pseudo-funk feel that makes Andrew Lloyd Webber so annoying. In fact, many of the songs sound like auditions for a Broadway musical.

Still, with the string, horn and choral sections removed, many of these tracks would make beautiful showcases for McKee's stellar vocals. On the majestic "To the Open Spaces" and the sultry "Be My Joy," the instrumentation is almost able to match McKee's emotional intensity without going over the top.

High Dive could have been a landmark album. Instead it mostly promises what could have been. For her next release, McKee might want to find a more objective producer than husband Jim Akin.

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