(c) 2014 LnJ Records
- Forever Starts Tonight (featuring Gunnar Nelson of NELSON)
- For Sure Thing (featuring Kelly Keeling of BATON ROUGE)
- Honeymoon Is Over (featuring Richard Kendrick)
- That's Gonna Leave A Mark
- Every Night She Cries
- Promises To God (featuring Fergie Ferguson of TOTO)
- Pucker Up (featuring Richard Kendrick)
- Sting Of Her Kiss (featuring Louis St. August of MASS)
- Two Or More
- Another Goodbye
- Prince Charming In Disguise (featuring Gunnar Nelson)
This is it...the final curtain call for the melodic hard rock band, Liberty N Justice. Band founder, bass player, and song writer, Justin Murr, has stated that he is closing this chapter of his musical life, which he as spent more than 20 years wrigint. In doing so, he is taking Liberty N Justice back to where it came from, as a band, and not an all-star project, which is how the band gained its 15 minutes of fame. Sure, there are still some guest appearances, but the singers are there to add background vocals, not to be lead singers. Additionally, JK Northrup handles all of the guitars this time around, with Murr, Eric Ragno, and Michael Feighan also contributing all of their own individual instrumental performances, with no guest "rock stars" to fill in. This is the band, folks, and they are for real.
The album kicks things off firing on all cylinders with "Forever Starts Tonight", featuring some AMAZING acapella layered vocals to intro the song and then powerful harmonies courtesy of Gunnar Nelson. If this opener is any indication of what's to come, ts apparent that the band plans to go down swinging with this record. "For Sure Thing" backs off only slightly, with David Cagle's bluesier approach getting some vocal assistance from Baton Rouge's Kelly Keeling in the background, before the real power of this record kicks in at track three. That's right...we are two for two with winning songs...and then they are topped!
As has always been the case, the focus is on the songwriting and the message with Liberty N Justice, and The Vow features some of the best material to ever come out of the LnJ camp. Nowhere is that more evident than on the almost painful to listen to "Honeymoon Is Over" which just screams personal agony over a love lost and the regret that goes with realizing you are largely to blame. With lyrics such as "haven't you heard, its everyone's fault but mine, haven't you heard, the honeymoon is over" and "with these words, I break this vow, with this ring, my happiness is in doubt", you can just feel the angst and doubt and second-guessing that is flowing through Cagle's vocals on this monster of a ballad. Following this up is the the angry, edgy, slightly modern rock sounding "That's Gonna Leave A Mark" which has Northrup threatening to melt the strings from his guitar. The more melodic, uptempo rockers "Gone" and "Every Night She Cries" reel things back into happier-sounding territory before the plaintive "Promises To God", which features some nice keyboard work from Ragno to compliment the emotive tenor of Cagle, rounds out this amazing five song arc. This song, like "Honeymoon..." features lyrics that I think nearly everyone can relate to: "I'm broken and battered, my dreams have been shattered, all I have left is making promises to God". While this block would have been a nearly perfect EP all by themselves, but I'm happy to say there is more to dig into here as well.
Don't think that all is serious here, as the trademark Murr humor is still intact, and you need look no further than the next track, "Pucker Up". I know when he reads this Justin is going to know EXACTLY what my first statement about this track is: GET RID OF THE CORNY INTRO!!! (he knows I hate those things) Aside from that, this is a great, smile-inducing track, where Murr name-drops his guitarist, JK Northrup, who also rips through a killer solo here. "Sting Of Her Kiss" is another aggressive rocker, again featuring some absolutely incredible work from Northrup, and some nice vocal support from Louis St. August of MASS fame. As far as the rockers go, this is quite possibly the stand-out on the record, at least musically. Why don't bands rock like this any longer? This is hard rock music, man! Cathcy, hook-laden, guitar-driven, steering wheel-smacking hard rock music.
I'm not huge on acoustic ballads, so while "Two Or More" isn't my favorite track here, I was surprised at how much I find myself liking it. The lyrics are powerful and given a solid push by Cagle. "Two Or More" pulls some Biblical references into a strong love song about faith, forgiveness, and redemption, with out getting preachy or sappy.
"Another Goodbye" has a Newsboys-styled pop-rock feel to it with a guitar line I SWEAR I have heard before, along with a nice Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End line dropped in the chorus, a la Captain Jack Sparrow (Justin loves his movie references!), before "Prince Charming In Disguise" closes things out with a somewhat trippy, poppy track that sounds musically like something Enuff Z'Nuff might have tried during their career.
As far as the musicianship goes, things are in top-notch form throughout. One thing that is especially noticeable on this album is the vocal strength of David Cagle, who was a relatively unknown session singer until Murr tapped him for several songs on the past couple of LnJ records (including ALL of the lead vocals on The Vow.) For fans of Guardian and Adrian Gale, I dare say that there is a definite Jamie Rowe quality to the sound and style of Cagle, yet he is nowhere near to being a rip-off artist here. Perhaps its the phrasing and the gritty edge that Cagle utilizes to push the emotional envelope that does this for me. Regardless, having Cagle at the top of his game here, and then giving him the chance to harmonize with Gunnar Nelson in a couple of spots, and Kelly Keeling and Louis St. August in others, really brings the vocals to life on this record in a way that I didn't notice was missing before with the all-star approach. And maybe it WASN'T missing on previous records, as the writing on those records wasn't taken to the concept/story album level that The Vow goes to. Who knows. All I know is I am duly impressed by what Cagle brings to the table here and I will be tracking him down wherever he goes from here.Northrup is at the top of his game throughout this record, and I again state without any reservation that he is one of the most under-appreciated guitar players in the hard rock genre. If you haven't heard his solo stuff or his other projects, finish reading this review and then start surfing the 'Net to find anything that JK plays on! That's an order! Feighan and Murr supply a solid and competent rhythm section that really should be given more credit than they likely will be. The standard for performance on this record is set pretty high, and both men do more than just pull their own weight here, although neither breaks into any extended solos or breaks to demand, "hey, look at me!" The same can be said for the uber-talented Ragno, who expertly uses his keyboards as complimentary instruments, rather than trying to dominate any single track. Yes, there are some great piano moments ("Promises To God") and keyboard elements to be found scattered throughout, but they don't bury any other instrument or detract from Cagle's vocals. This is a BAND now, folks, and they work together, not against each other, to great effect.
If this is indeed the final chapter in the Liberty N Justice book, it is a good way to close, with no gimmicks, no all-star sessions. Excellent songwriting, which has long been an LnJ trademark, abounds here, with solid performances all the way around, especially from Northrup and vocalist, Cagle, who is quite possibly a star in the making if he finds the right vehicle. Like a favorite athlete, you don't want them to leave the game, but if they have to leave, you want your last memory to be a good one. The Vow does that for Liberty N Justice, leaving you with one last shot of band that went down swinging.
Rating: As always, crankable. Give the knob a spin to 9 on The Vow.