|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Liberty N' Justice|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 85%|
When you read “Liberty N’ Justice”, you probably think of “all star projects”, “special guest musicians” and the like. You don’t think in terms of a band with the same steady line-up. That changes now.
Most hard music fans identify with Liberty N’ Justice as an “all star project” due to the recent history of founding member Justin Murr. Starting with Welcome To The Revolution from 2005, Murr has recruited some of the best musicians and vocalists in the business (both past and present) to assist with the songwriting and recording of each LNJ album. Welcome To The Revolution, for instance, featured eighteen different vocalists, including Michael Sweet (Stryper), Ken Tamplin (Shout), Jamie Rowe (Guardian) and Lou Gramm (Foreigner). The trend continued over the next eight years, with LNJ releasing five full-length studio albums, one EP and two compilations before culminating with the 2013 2-CD set The Cigar Chronicles in which 76 guest musicians participated.
What many do not know, however, is that LNJ actually got its start as a two-man band in which Murr joined forces with vocalist Patrick Marchand. The pair recorded four albums over a nine-year span, starting with Armed With The Cross (1992) but also encompassing Big Guns (1994), Forever Till The End (1996) and Bargain Bin (2000). The Vow, the fifteenth LNJ album from the summer of 2014, finds Murr relinquishing his all star project ways and returning LNJ to its full-fledged band roots. This reveals itself in how for the first time since 2000 Murr has recorded an LNJ album with the same nucleus of musicians: Joining Murr on bass is vocalist David Cagle, guitarist JK Northrup (King Cobra, XYZ), keyboardist Eric Ragno (China Blue, Graham Bonnett, Faiths Edge) and drummer Michael Feighan (White Cross, King James).
What has not changed is musical direction in that LNJ stays true to its eighties influenced melodic rock, commercial hard rock and melodic metal roots. Those that have followed LNJ over the years know there are some variances therein, ranging from the lighter touches of the acoustic based Independence Day (2007) and AOR influenced Chasing A Cure (2011) to the driving metal of Hell Is Coming To Breakfast (2012). In between LNJ settles into a steady groove of melodic hard rock on Light It Up (2010) and The Cigar Chronicles (2013). The Vow presents with a best of both worlds scenario in featuring a delectable selection of heavier and lighter cuts I see appealing to fans of all eras of LNJ’s history.
“That’s Gonna Leave A Mark” and “Every Night She Cries” rank not so much with the albums heaviest but perhaps heaviest ever from LNJ. Former does exactly that with its hook and groove underpinnings in which snarling guitars and barbed chorus lend to the serious angst laden backbone at hand. Lead guitar is rooted in traditional blues. Latter plays up the more upbeat tempo in a no frills package, straightforward with its monster guitar walls but equally engaging from its melodically tinged milieu. Low-end makes quite the pronounced statement. “Sting Of Her Kiss” represents another heavy hitter, yielding the non-stop slugfest that is its refrain but also able to give rise to smoother bluesy sentiments. The keyed up soloing finds JK Northrup at the top of his game.
“Gone” leaves the initial impression the album is beginning to mellow with its stilly done opening but not so in that sledgehammer guitars soon cut in for the hard rock semi-ballad setting at hand: smoothly flowing verses contrast with the guitar focused edge of its unrelenting chorus. The Vow does not start to calm, even if just slightly, for the melodic rock of “Forever Starts Tonight”, not quite heavy as some but forthright all the same in emphasizing beautiful vocal melodies to establish the more commercial setting. “For Sure Thing” takes a similar heading but with the darker aspect in reinforcing swirling guitars and Murr’s punchy bass lines, as does “The Honeymoon Is Over”, another semi-ballad with a bluesy essence and pleading over the top sensibilities.
The Vow moderates further for its two showcase ballads, with “Promises To God” classy as they get with a piano and keyboard foundation in delivering ample pomp with an accessible chorus that would sound right at home on FM radio. In similar fashion, “Prince Charming In Disguise” proves every bit moving from its commercial leanings (chorus is lushly done as it gets) and prodigious backing vocals of a near Stryper-like quality. The two serve to highlight the versatile vocal abilities of David Cagle, whose gritty and raspy delivery lends to both the rocker and ballads ((style wise he walks a fine line between Mark Boals, Jamie Rowe and Larry Worley). “Two Or More Are Gathered” ranks with the albums mellowest (and best) with its heartfelt emotional qualities merged with acoustic guitar and textured keyboards.
Only a couple of songs come into question. “Another Goodbye” is a medium to good AOR-ish piece distinguished by its tempered guitars and acoustic tinctures. No, not filler or skip button worthy but also ranking a notch below the albums better material in my opinion. Hard rocker “Pucker Up” comes across too corny for its own good. It starts with the cheesy voice over opening but also includes the multi-layered chorus repeating the songs title in overdone fashion. To the artist’s credit, “Pucker Up” is quirkily catchy and lends a humorous element to an album that comes across all too serious.
Speaking of which, The Vow is concept related in dealing with the struggles of (in the words of the artist) a “relationship that started great, (that you) wanted to end and then did not want it over”. All the ‘ups and downs’ and emotions that go hand in hand (anger, resentment, frustration, humility, regret, grief, etc) are represented in painting a picture of falling in and out of love and ultimate restoration.
From the ‘falling out’ standpoint, “Sting Of Her Kiss” deals with the mixed emotions of a ‘love hate’ relationship (running the gamut from “One thing I’m gonna miss is the sting of her kiss” to “everyday she tells me she hates me”). “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark” presents with the fall out from verbal abuse (“Cut so deep into my vein with your verbal razor blade/Just sit and watch me bleed”), while “The Honey Moon Is Over” touches upon the blame game (“You say you know it’s all my fault/Haven’t you heard it’s everyone’s fault but mine”). “Every Night She Cries” begins the restoration process with its focus on humility and stark honesty: “Every night she cries/And I’m the reason why/With every tear her love dies/This is our goodbye/She want a new life”.
The true meaning behind The Vow can be found in how restoration and faith go hand in hand, as portrayed on “Another Goodbye” (“I’ve got faith in someone I can’t see/In His Word I trust and believe) and “Promises To God” (“Now I pray for a second chance/ Lord, please bring her back”). Things culminate on “Two Or More Are Gathered” in which said prayers are answered: “Wounded for my transgression/Bruised for my iniquities/Peace was upon Him/By His stripes I am free/Miracles still happened/Faith still matters/Mountains still move/When two or more are gathered”.
Quality production remains an LNJ staple. I especially enjoy the strength to the rhythm guitar (delivering quite the wallop on the heavier material) and pronounced low en (with complementary bass filled presence).
The Vow might not be the most consistently heavy album from LNJ but not the lightest either; it falls somewhat in between in capturing the best aspects from both sides of the fence. What comes to the forefront in the process is a continuity only a project recorded by the same roster of musicians can provide, which by no means is to denigrate the LNJ all-star era that had its very fine moments (I graded Light It Up and The Cigar Chronicles 90% each for a reason). The Vow, in essence, is a completely different ball of wax in this regard- so it comes down to synergy verses variety. Yes, I will take them both, but if you are not previously familiar with LNJ then The Vow is a good place to start before moving on to the all star project releases by musical tastes.
Ultimately, The Vow is another strong album in what has been a long line of strong albums from LNJ. The problem, however, is that it is also reported to be the final LNJ album, which I find disappointing in light of the great chemistry inherit to the band based version of LNJ. The new line-up brings the type of cohesion that not only makes you feel they were meant to work together but also ask, “Gee, I wonder what they will sound like 3 to 4 albums down the road”. Hence, I cannot help but believe that sometime in the near future we will be hearing from Murr again- similar to Brett Favre (or Bride for that matter) he will be back.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Forever Starts Tonight” (4:05), “For Sure Thing” (4:11), “Honeymoon Is Over” (4:18), “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark” (4:10), “Gone” (3:54), “Every Night She Cries” (4:18), “Promises To God” (4:13), “Pucker Up” (3:36), “Sting Of Her Kiss” (3:44), “Two Or More Are Gathered” (4:18), “Another Goodbye” (4:46), “Prince Charming In Disguise” (3:48)
David Cagle - Lead Vocal
JK Northrup - Guitars
Eric Ragno - Keyboards
Justin Murr - Bass
Michael Feighan - Drums