Peddlin' Dreams is Maria McKee's fifth studio outing since 1989. Since leaving Lone Justice in 1988, she has consistently frustrated her fans' expectations, not only for her infrequent recordings, but also for her restless muse that has taken her from pop (Maria McKee) to roots Americana and R&B (You Gotta Sin to Get Saved), squalling art rock (Life Is Sweet) and textured neo- psychedelia (High Dive). There was a live album issued in 2004 as well, but for the most part, McKee has stubbornly followed her own path for the past 16 years. While her label touts Peddlin' Dreams as a return to rootsy American rock and folk styles, and as the album that logistically follows You Gotta Sin. Simply put; this isn't true. This is not a look back but a further look in. It's true that acoustic guitars permeate this mix by producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist Jim Akin, and the songs walk the folk-rock border, but they are the frame for the rich, labyrinthine, multidimensional songs here. McKee wrote or co-wrote nine of the album's 12 tracks. Using folk, country and rock backdrops, McKee's songs offer stories of the broken, the lost, the wider-eyed and the hopeless. There's the confessional longing of the protagonist in "Season of the Fair" where memory, evoked by emptiness and rejection, wraps itself in the warm embrace of strummed, unplugged six-strings and lets itself fall framed by an organ, a lone electric guitar punching through the refrain, and the singer's voice, trying hard to hold what is not only fleeting but weighted in unrelenting pain. The loose, slippery country-rock of "Sullen Sou," alternates between the balance of guitars and just behind the beat drums as the singer lets the depth of her emotion flow in images from her mouth like raw honey. The cover of Neil Young's "Barstool Blues," is faithful, shambolic, and drunken. But McKee's delivery carries an emotional weight that Young's never did. This isn't reverie; it's misery. "The Horse Life" is a waltz, layered in staggered guitars and pedal steels, where yearning and fantasy crisscross with fleeting hope, and shimmering poetry with poignancy and elegance. Peddlin' Dreams is a melancholy record to be sure, but it's moving, utterly beautiful and carefully, artfully wrought. It is the work of a masterful songwriter whose senses of time, place and character are impeccable.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek