Feb 17, 1999 at 12:00 am

Lone Justice – altcountry before the genre was hot enough to merit its own airplay chart and bimonthly magazine – split seven years before the 1994 implosion that was Uncle Tupelo sparked a twang-rock Big Bang. Terrible timing. Maria McKee, all of 18 when she assembled the Los Angeles rabble-rousers, nevertheless created a body of work, fed by a simultaneous appetite for country roots and punk impudence, that grows ever large.

The proof is in This World Is Not My Home, a convincing collection drawn from two studio albums, unreleased demos and live recordings. It’s impossible to resist McKee’s gospel-bred wail – Janis Joplin with a Tammy Wynette injection – on "East of Eden," all sin and redemption over a Bo Diddley beat and the greasy Hammond B-3 organ of fifth wheel Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers). Ditto for the bawdy "Ways to Be Wicked" and the regretful "Don’t Toss Us Away." Or the secular salvation of "You Are the Light," the fourth of four songs from the band’s 1985 debut.

The group’s sophomore album, Shelter, despite its glossier sound, was another showcase for McKee’s full-throttle vocals and songwriting acumen, as indicated by the title track and two other pieces from that disc.

Live, on their own and opening for the likes of U2 and Petty, was the way to be dazzled by McKee and Co., heard hinting at that lost glory on Lou Reed’s "Sweet Jane" (abetted by Bono), "Sweet, Sweet Baby" and "Wheels." Ron Wood and Bob Dylan chime in with lead and rhythm guitars, respectively, on the good and crunchy "Go Away Little Boy," one of three rockin’ Jimmy Iovine-produced outtakes.

We even get glimpses of the group’s life before Geffen, with 1983 recordings of the folksy "Drugstore Cowboy," the two-beating "Rattlesnake Mama" and "This World is Not My Home," and a churning burn through Merle Haggard’s "Working Man Blues." Sure, a Lone Justice reunion would prompt accusations of crass opportunism. Here’s hoping McKee takes that risk.