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Beth McKee is back

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Beth McKee / COURTESY PHOTO

She has toured with Jimmy Buffett, released two albums on major label MCA Nashville and appears on the final record by Louisiana songwriter legend Bobby Charles. Yeah, Beth McKee has led an interesting life.

A sultry vocalist, she shares her tales over a cozy backdrop of blues, zydeco, soul and swampy R&B on her latest album “Next to Nowhere.” It’s a collection of originals that find the singer/songwriter establishing herself as one of today’s top Americana artists following a recording hiatus that ran from about 1996 to 2008. AllMusic.com, one of the most read and trusted record review sites online, gave “Next to Nowhere” four out of five stars. Similar glowing reviews have poured in from other publications nationwide. McKee sounds simultaneously excited and embarrassed about all the praise.

“It’s very flattering,” McKee says by phone from her Oak Ridge home just outside Orlando. “I can’t say more than that I try and tuck those things in the back of my brain and not let my head get big; but it does help beat back the insecurities sometimes.”

McKee, a youthful 52, will be at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota on Friday accompanying herself on keyboards and accordion with backing from husband Juan Perez (drums) and Dan Walters (bass).It will be a “funky and intimate songwriter set,” McKee says.

On Saturday, the same McKee-led trio will be at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa augmented by guitarist Tommy Calton (his band Hotel charted four times on the Billboard Hot 100 starting in the late 1970s) and Hall & Oates sax player Charlie DeChant (yeah, that’s him soloing on “Maneater” and other huge hits).

“I’m real proud of that band,” McKee says.

Beth McKee Hi Res2

Beth McKee / COURTESY PHOTO

She first started touring with major recording artists a couple decades ago when Greg “Fingers” Taylor, harmonica ace and longtime member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, recruited McKee to play piano and sing in his all-woman, R&B backing band. Taylor formed the Revue to be the opening act for Buffett’s 1991 summer tour. The following year, McKee was opening for Buffett again, but this time with her bayou-country band Evangeline, which Buffett signed to Margaritaville Records, his personal subsidiary of MCA.

Despite a couple of critically acclaimed albums including 1993’s “French Quarter Moon” — it features “She’s a Wild One,” which later became a big hit for Faith Hill under the title “Wild One” — Evangeline just wasn’t slick enough for mainstream country music. By the summer of 1996, McKee and Juan Perez, her drummer and husband, relocated to Oak Ridge.

“When we moved to Florida I kind of thought I was done,” McKee says. “I was heartbroken and spent.”

It would be about a dozen years before McKee would end her self-imposed exile from the music industry and embark on a solo career. It started with a suggestion from Juan to record material by one of their favorite songwriters, Bobby Charles. The composer of such 1950s and early ‘60s classics as “See You Later, Alligator,” “Walking to New Orleans” and “(I Don't Know Why) But I Do,” Charles performed with The Band in 1976 at their famous farewell concert “The Last Waltz.”

McKee paid tribute to the Louisiana songwriting legend by making a gorgeous album consisting solely of his songs for her 2009 comeback collection “I’m That Way.” Charles liked the album so much the two became friends and McKee can be heard singing on “You’ll Always Live Inside of Me.” It’s a poignant track from Charles’ album “Timeless,” released shortly after his death in 2010. McKee credits her talks and time spent with Charles’ music as the inspiration behind her finally writing again, which resulted in the superb material for “Next to Nowhere.”

“He was on my shoulder every step of the way,” McKee says.

Beth McKee Trio; 8:30 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster; 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $5; 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.

Beth McKee Band with opening act Colin Lake; 8 p.m. Saturday; 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; $10/$13 (at the door); (813) 971-0666; skipperssmokehouse.com

 

Beth McKee Trio; 8:30 p.m. Friday; The Blue Rooster; 1525 4th St., Sarasota; $5; 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com

Beth McKee Band with opening act Colin Lake; 8 p.m. Saturday; 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; $10/$13 (at the door); (813) 971-0666; skipperssmokehouse.com



Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: July 21, 2013
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