Saturday, October 27, 2012

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 2-The Originals"

(2) 2012 LnJ Productions

  1. Devil His Dues (Derrick LeFevre of Lillian Axe, Vic Rivera of Crunch, Michael Feighan of Liberty N Justice/Whitecross, and Barry Graul of Mercy Me/Whitecross)
  2. The Greatest (David Cagle of Liberty N Justice, Mark Allan Lanoue of Chasing Karma/Biloxi, and Brad Stetler)
  3. Cupid's Gonna Bleed (Gunnar Nelson of Nelson, Steve Brown of Trixter, and Barry Karl of Rockapella)
  4. Under Construction (Eric Dover of Slash's Snakepit/Jelly Fish, Mark Kendall of Great White, Ian Keith Hafner of Jaguar Blaze/Angry Little Freak, and Eric Rango of Liberty N Justice)
  5. Been There, Done That (Ted Poley of Danger Danger, and Richard Kendrick or Straitjacket Smile)
  6. Grace (Michael Bormann of Jaded Heart/Rain/Charade, Phillip Bardowell of Unruly Child/Beach Boys, and Mark Slaughter of Slaughter)
  7. Sucker Punched (Rick Stitch of Hotel Diablo, Jerry Dixon of Warrant, and Xander Demos)
  8. Broken Bones (Giancarlo Floridia of Faithsedege, Greg Martin of Kentucky Headhunters, and Chad Stewart of Faster Pussycat)
  9. Sin (Jani Lane of Warrant/Saints Of The Underground, Bill Leverty of Firehouse and Keri Kelli of Alice Cooper Band/Ratt/Skid Row/LA Guns/Vince Neil Band)
  10. Give 'Em A Light (Paul Shortino of King Kobra/Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot and Dave Henzerling of King Kobra/Steelshine)
  11. Daddy Long Legs (Louis St. August of MASS and Timothy Gaines of Stryper)
  12. Cut Me Mick (Ron Keel of KEEL/Iron Horse and Michael Phillips of Deliverance/The Sacrificed)
  13. Tomorrow (Terry Ilous of Great White/XYZ, Ron Wikso of The Storm/Foreigner/David Lee Roth Band, Alessandro Del Vecchio of Harline/Eden's Curse, and PK Mitchell formerly of Bloodgood)
Additional Musicians:

JK Northrup (King Kobra/XYZ/Liberty N Justice)--Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Bass, Drums
Justin Murr (Liberty N Justice)--Bass

Additional Backing Vocals:  Giancarlo Floridia, Richard Kendrick, Phil Vincent, Michael Stover, Frankie Cleaver, and Bryan Cole

When a band has been around long enough, a lot of critics start talking about that band's defining moment, the pinnacle of their career.  Pink Floyd had The Wall, Queensryche had Operation: Mindcrime, Def Leppard had Hysteria, Whitesnake had their 1987 self-titled album...and on and on...  So, it is not surprising when looking back over the vast catalog of great material that Justin Murr has released under the Liberty N Justice moniker it is natural that critics and reviewers of melodic hard rock might start looking for the defining moment from that project (not yet a band...but it's coming!  Look for hints throughout the review...).  My friends...the Liberty N Justice definining moment has arrived!!!

The Cigar Chronicles is a massive undertaking more than three years in the making.  I have had various demo versions of many of these songs floating around my computer and mp3 player for a couple of years now, but to finally hear the finished product is amazing.  This two-disc, 26-track collection is staggering not only in its size but also in its execution.  It is not only the line-up that has been assembled that will stagger fans, but the quality of the work, the near-perfection in the songwriting, the mixing, the production, and the performances of all involved.  It is near impossible for me to find something not to like about The Cigar Chronicles, especially on Volume 2-The Originals, where the songwriting team of Justin Murr and JK Northrup (along with assistance and co-writes from a handful of others) bring a level of skill to this LnJ collection that has never been equalled on any previous LnJ project.

From the moment new, permanent LnJ drummer Michael Feighan thunders in to open "Devil His Dues", it is apparent Liberty N Justice has stepped up their game!  The production is crisp and clean, giving a distinct voice to each of the instruments involved in a manner not heard on a full LnJ project before.  The huge backing vocals are a perfect compliment to the exceptional lead vocals of Derrick LeFevre, the former front man for Lillian Axe, and the lead guitar work of Vic Rivera is short, sweet, and powerful on this exceptional rocker that sets a high bar for the rest of this album to follow as far as quality.

While not as well known as LeFevre or Rivera, the team of David Cagle and Mark Allan Lanoue step up to the plate and deliver as well, with another formidable rocker, "The Greatest".  Slickly produced, the song reminds me a lot of the excellent material that fellow Christian rockers Shout and that band's lead singer, Ken Tamplin, put out in the 90's.  A powerful message coupled with a top-notch performance gives this disc a two-for-two start as far as excellent tracks goes.

"Sick of eating crow..." grumbles the intro (and outro) for the next number, as Gunnar Nelson of his namesake band, Nelson, takes center-stage next on "Cupid's Gonna Bleed".  A slight bit more modern in approach than the first few tracks, this is nonetheless still an outstanding uptempo number with Steve Brown from Trixter launching into a tasty melodic solo that will have listeners sitting up and taking notice as few times can I recall him ripping through a solo like this in his main band.

Eric Dover of Slash's Snakepit slows things down for the first time on this album with "Under Construction" and he gives a gritty, emotion-laden performance on this track that also pairs the long-toothed Great White guitarist, Mark Kendall, with Jaguar Blaze axe-slinger, Ian Keith Hafner.  Again, nearly flawless production really separates the instruments here and the layered background vocals work to perfection.  If this was 1987, lighters would be burning bright all over an arena somewhere as this song echoed to a close.  A powerful performance that mixes both acoustic and electric guitar over the top of LnJ keyboardist Eric Rango's complimentary keyboard work.  (A note to other keyboard players out there...THIS is how the instrument should be used!)

Ted Poley of Danger Danger picks the pace up again with "Been There Done That".  Once again, the production and songwriting takes on just a hint of a modern touch and just a bit of buzz has been added to the guitars on this number, but it works well with the structure of the song.  Again, big layers of backing vocals lend themselves to the chorus and Kendrick packs a punch on his solo heading into the final chorus of the track.  I'm going to have to be sure to track down some Straitjacket Smile if this is the style of guitar that is present in that band's music!

"Grace" picks up where "Under Construction" left off as far as balladry goes, but takes a different approach.  Employing a backing vocal section that reminds me of a powerhouse gospel choir, this U2-ish melodic number that delivers a surprising guitar solo from Mark Slaughter.  Formerly known for his piercingly high vocal style, Slaughter shows that he is no slouch on the guitar here, as he handled both the main solo and the outro on this excellent ballad with a powerhouse of a message about grace and salvation!  As it stands, this track already packs a vocal wallop as former Beach Boy and Unruly Child member Philip Bardowell trades off vocal duties with German vocal legend, Michael Bormann of Jaded Heart.  Truly an amazing piece of music that still moves me when I hear it.

"Sucker Punched" is an interesting number that features a truly amazing, completely unheralded guitar hero in the form of one Mr. Xander Demos!  Demos, along with Jerry Dixon of Warrant fame, deliver an aggressive-yet-still-melodic hard rocker that also showcases the vocal talents of Hotel Diablo's Rick Stitch.  However, with no disrespect meant for anyone involved, it is the Malmsteen-esque solo runs delivered by Demos that are the real treat of this song and I encourage anyone who has not yet snapped up his solo album to do so immediately!  Tell 'em Glitter2Gutter sent you!!!

"Broken Bones" features yet another vocalist I had never heard in one Mr. Giancarlo Floridia of the band Faithsedge.   He has a Sebastian Bach-meets-Jamie Rowe style that works well with this hard rocker that has a surprising guest solo from country-rocker Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters.  Martin, of course, is no stranger to Christian hard rock, having previously recorded with LnJ as well as Christian veterans Bride, but his guitar take here is far more rock and far less swampy blues than people may have experienced from him in the past.  Of note here is also the presence of current Faster Pussycat skins-master, Chris Stewart, who lays down a nice rhythm for the rest of the song to be structured over while also tossing in a couple of nice fills and some tricks of his own.  This tasty song reminds me of the style that LnJ employed on the Soundtrack Of A Soul album a few years back and, while not the absolute gem in this treasure-chest of an album, it will never have someone reaching for the skip button by any means. 

To come completely clean with my readers, I very nearly skipped ahead of everything else when I got these tracks and jumped straight to the fully recorded version of "Sin", the last known recording from former Warrant frontman, Jani Lane.  We have already been treated to a heart-wrenching acoustic version of this song on the previous Liberty N Justice release, Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, but I knew that this version was the one that Justin, JK, and the rest really wanted people to hear.  I resisted the temptation of jumping ahead, which, considering the lyrical topic of this song is a bit of irony in and of itself, and I am glad that I did, because the greatness of this song really is showcased when surrounded by so many other excellent pieces of music.  As it is, the late Jani Lane's vocals are every bit as haunting and soul-scarring here as they were in the acoustic version, but the extra power of a properly amped-up Bill Leverty (Firehouse) and Keri Kelli (who has played for everyone EXCEPT Firehouse, it seems...), this song reaches a level I did not know was possible for it.  I am not trying to over-hype this song or sell it to anyone, because I truly believe the song sells itself once it is heard.  Rather, I am trying to express the frustration and sadness that I feel whenever I hear Lane tackle this song about THIS subject, because I think it so chillingly reflects what we have learned about the end of his tormented life.  As someone who does not believe in pre-destination, I find myself feeling that this song was meant to be performed by this man and no one else...and he puts an exclamation point on the talent that he possessed when he (and his cohorts) absolutely nail this number.  Perfect performances across the board, excellent production from JK Northrup, and truly amazing songwriting here; this is the level that I wish all music could be taken to.  Amazing...

"Give 'Em A Light" brings out yet another stellar vocal performance, this time from one of my all-time favorites, Paul Shortino (King Kobra/Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot).  Shortino's blues-soaked, life-lived vocal delivery is the perfect compliment to this driving rocker that also features his pal Dave Kenzerling of King Kobra on lead guitar, and...of course...his good friend Mr. JK Northrup, who also previously performed with King Kobra, on rhythm guitar, drums, and bass.  This lighter-hearted number is the perfect pick-me-up to follow "Sin", and is strong enough in its performance to not be overshadowed by the previous track.

Louis St. August of the underappreciated melodic Boston rock band MASS takes the mic for the next track, "Daddy Long Legs".  Tim Gaines of Stryper handles the bass (with JK Northrup on guitar and drums) on this track that delivers a really cute message about a topic that is explained in a spoken bridge to the song, but wraps it some cliched 80's rock lyrics that could lead the less-than-straight-minded listener down a different road if they let their thoughts drift.  Perfectly tongue-in-cheek and delightfully light-hearted, Mr. Murr's ode to the song's subject is a good one with a catchy chorus and some excellent vocal work, both out front and in the backing department.

Speaking of Justin Murr, his penchant for film rears its head again on The Cigar Chronicles.  On Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, the listener got to feast their ears on Murr's ode to the Bruce Willis Die Hard series of movies.  This time, Stallone's Rocky character is lifted straight from the first movie as, after having his face is beaten to a swollen, bruised mess, Rocky begs his trainer "I can't see, you gotta open my eyes.  Cut me, Mick".  In this lyrical incarnation, Ron Keel handles the Rocky character's line in over-the-top KEEL vocal fashion and swagger in this song about not giving up when life gets hard.  Michael Phillips of Christian metal legends Deliverance (and currently with The Sacrificed) handles the guitar work here and absolutely rips through a couple of solos on this, the hardest rocker on the album.  Excellent songwriting and lyrics that make my inner Rocky want to get up off the floor and keep on fighting really drive this number that really drives the latter portion of this album.  (Stick around for the Rocky II quote at the end of the song, by the way....)

My feelings about Terry Ilous being the new lead singer of ONE of the versions of Great White have already been documented on this site, but that opinion takes nothing away from the excellent performance Ilous provides in closing this album on "Tomorrow".  Ilous and Hardline's Alessandro Del Vecchio provide the bombastic voices for this big, inspiring ballad, that really has a full band feel to it, as Ron Wisko from The Storm/Foreigner/David Lee Roth Band handles the big drum sound here, with former Bloodgood guitar hero PK Mitchell tackling the melodic guitar solos.  A really nice way to close the disc, this song is by no means the "leftovers" of the recording sessions and is not buried at the end as a sign of weakness.  I look at it as a way to wrap the album back around to the beginning in one big, nearly perfect loop! 

By the time we have finished the last track, we, the listeners, have been taken on a quite a musical journey that I feel I have inadequately described in places.  This is a truly complete musical experience that I can honestly say I have not taken in quite some time.  Ups and downs, lows and highs, rockers and ballads...everything works here...and this is only HALF of the Cigar Chronicles project!  An absolute must-own, this is going to be difficult to top if someone wants to claim the number one position in the Glitter2Gutter Top 12 of 2012. 

Rating:!  The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 2-The Originals is as near to perfection as 2012 has seen.  Crank this masterpiece to 9.5...

To read our review of The Cigar Chronicles: Volume 1-The Covers, click here!

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