Country is a genre I rarely find myself visiting. It is not as though I never had the opportunity to appreciate it. I don’t have an excuse as to why this is the case. I spent the majority of my life in relatively rural areas where access to country music was nothing less than ample. Funny thing is that a lot of rock music I enjoy borrows from country and, in turn, creates really stellar subgenres. When I hear a song that blends both the rock and country genres seamlessly, I become instantly reminded of what I am missing and the vastness of diversity within contemporary music. Lone Justice’s 1985 single “Ways to Be Wicked” is a great example of when a song does this right.
Lone Justice was a country rock band that formed in the early 1980s and was fronted by Maria McKee. McKee has since moved on with a modestly successful solo career, but I’ve always been drawn to her first musical endeavor leading Lone Justice. Early projects by established musicians are always fascinating to visit because of the genuine intensity of youth and energy that comes from the record. Sure, an artist does grow in a lot of ways while often refining their talents. But, that level of craft can sometimes leave the rawness behind. The first record is a time when a band wants to make a big noise and really fight to be heard. It is seldom matched after that.
The driving force of the song is McKee’s voice and the power of it. She sets up the song singing to a former lover almost as if it were conversation. She is asking this person why they take such pleasure in the pain of a lovelorn McKee. McKee demands answers while accepting that she is powerless to matters of the heart. From there, McKee gains momentum as she is making a stand. She projects louder and further establishing that she is strong enough to handle the emotional manipulation of the situation. But, we’re all human and the heart wants what it wants. It is from that internal conflict where we can really hear McKee’s pain and frustration. There is real authenticity there in struggling to break free. We’ve all been there and McKee’s vocal performance feels real.
I was recently reminded of this song after picking up the album at the CHIRP Record Fair two weeks ago in a box marked “3 LPS for a $1.” I was very excited because the song is such a gem. The backing music is a bit uncharacteristically jaunty and generic, but it does its job well. Life is funny sometimes and the band reflects that in their arrangement. It can be good even when times are hard. Fight through the bullshit but keep your heart lite. There may be so many ways to be wicked, but you can take a little pain and hold it pretty well.