Friday, November 26, 2021

THE BRAVE "Evie's Little Garden"


(c) 2021 Independent Release

  1. Evie's Little Garden
  2. Run To You
  3. I've Always Wondered
  4. We're Not In Kansas Anymore
  5. Elevate Me
  6. Creep
  7. If I Told You
  8. Lonely Bones
  9. And We All Fall Down
  10. Lucid
  11. Come To Me
  12. Love: Automatic
Stayce Roberts--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Keys
Malcolm Paris--Bass, Backing Vocals
John Spittle--Drums

From the Out Of Nowhere Files, 2021 saw the return of one of my favorite melodic rock bands of the 1990s, The Brave.  Now, it is true, The Brave did previously make a comeback effort with the release of  the rather unspectacular 2014 record, Rise, but after that disappointing effort, I truly didn't feel like we would ever hear from the band again.  It has been a long time since I was so glad that I was so wrong!  

No, Evie's Little Garden does not fully transport the band back to 1992 and their insanely slick and highly polished Battle Cries album.  Nor does it truly recall the dirtier, bluesier, grittier sound of 1994's Trust record.  However, Evie's Little Garden does find the band settling somewhere in the middle of those two excellent albums, treating listeners to an album that combines surprisingly strong lead vocals (why hasn't Roberts been fronting the band all of these years?!) backed by Paris' tight vocal harmonies, excellent guitar work, and a powerful bottom end that all work together to support some truly great songs that breathe new life into the Christian branch of the melodic hard rock genre.  While Roberts and Paris remain from the original version of the band, and Spittle has been with The Brave since the mid-90s, unlike on their last release, Rise, where they chose to pay homage to their past by re-recording several tracks from their first two records, this time The Brave exclusively moves forward with all new songs and an updated sound.  

The record kicks off with the title track and lead single, "Evie's Little Garden", which sets the Creation of man, and his subsequent fall in the Garden of Eden, to a killer, hook-laden rock track.  Guitars rumble to life to intro the track, then the percussion-driven verses and Roberts' gritty, gravelly vocals snarl their way into the mix, not even hinting at the melodic hook that is going to snare you in the ear once the chorus hits!  Expertly layered backing vocals add to the snarl that Roberts incorporates here, creating one of my favorite melodic rock tracks of the year, Christian or secular!  There's also a great guitar solo, some cool snake sound effects thrown into the mix, and just enough keyboard to round out this melodic rock gem.  This is a MONSTER of a song that had me clamoring to hear the entire record the very first time I laid ears on the track.  But as great as the music is, the construction of the lyrics, particularly the chorus, really grabbed my attention...

"Something's goin' on down in Evie's Little Garden,
Somebody said they saw a snake!
Hell's breaking loose down in Evie's Little Garden,
There's gonna be some Hell to pay...
There ain't no Garden anymore!"

Check it out below...

Follow-up single, "Run To You" shows up next in the track list, this time adding a bit more polish to the sound, with smooth, soaring vocals.  Definitely a bit "poppier" in the songwriting department, "Run To You" sounds a bit like an updated version of the type of tune the band burst onto the scene with on Battle Cries.  Roberts backs off the grit and gravel, vocally, allowing his voice to soar a bit in places, with Roberts displaying a fairly impressive range for a guy who had three separate chances, on three previous albums, to step up to the microphone, and in all three cases utilized a different lead singer!  And while he doesn't have the smooth, rich delivery of original frontman, James Salter, I have to say that I am far more able to listen to Roberts' voice repeatedly as it has that edge that just grabs your attention.  Again, this is a solid rock track, a bit more uptempo than the punchy "Evie's Little Garden", and features some really strong drum work.  Check this one out below...

"I've Always Wondered" heads more in the bluesier direction that the band's sophomore record, Trust, travelled, and I have to say it is one of the best tracks on an album chock full of great tunes!  Pondering the question of what life would be like had Christ not died for our sins, this track hits hard both musically and lyrically.  This type of track really seems to be the band's strong suit, to be honest, and is definitely put together well.  Once again, we have a really good guitar solo following the second chorus run, and Roberts sounds extremely confident with this type of vocal approach.  Again, I have to give a nod to the really well done backing vocals that add even more depth to the lead vocals from Roberts.  And, yet again, the band has offered up a video for what I am assuming will be the third single from the album at some point.  

As great as "Evie's Little Garden" is, as a song, I have to say that the next cut, "We're Not In Kansas Any More" may be my favorite (although it is definitely close!).  As I alluded to earlier, I really, really liked the musical turn the band took between their first and second albums, and "...Kansas..." definitely has that bluesy style that was utilized so expertly on the Trust record, which I would have previously said was my favorite.  If you are familiar with Trust, the killer "Can't Let The Devil Win" is a great stylistic comparison, and I find myself considering whether I love this track more than that one, which says a lot!  Here, this slower mid-tempo rocker just has such a cool guitar tone, more of those amazing backing vocals, and a big guitar hook that sinks itself in and refuses to let go.  Again, Roberts proves himself to be an expert vocalist with this type of track, and I highly doubt I have made it through this album without hitting repeat on this track every time.  I hope this song is released as a single in the near future, as I think "We're Not In Kansas Anymore" could end up being one of the band's signature songs.  I love it!  

"Elevate Me" stays in this bluesy groove, and I have to admit that I found myself starting to feel like this was the pocket the band would spend the rest of the album working from, and I was completely okay with that.  The Brave definitely has a style that they seem at home working with, and this heavy blues rock style never gets old for me.  As I have mentioned before, the harmony vocals just work incredibly well on this record, and what Roberts and Paris put together here is spectacular.  I'm not sure if there are some other singers added into the mix, but if not, the work from these two guys is top shelf, to be sure.

"Creep" is likely to throw listeners for a loop, with its demonic-vocal spoken intro and the, well, creepy vocal approach Roberts uses to start the verse sections.  Being 100% candid, this is a dark track musically, with a chilling, haunting style running throughout the song.  The solo, which is the finest on the entire album, shifts from a smooth string-bender, using some discordant tones, to a high-speed fret-runner near the end of the initial run, before bleeding under the closing turns through the chorus.  I say "bleeding under" because even as the chorus is sung repeatedly to close the song, the frenetic guitar acrobatics continue, with Roberts really going off near the end.  Definitely a top four song for me, all depending upon how I choose to arrange my favorites here.  Guitar fans are going to love this track, I have zero doubt!

Those demonic vocals pop up on "If I Told You" again, both at the intro and later on in the track, but generally speaking, this is a more straight-forward melodic hard rocker, with another great (but too short!) guitar solo from Roberts.  Spittle delivers some really good drum work here, with some hard-hitting fills and a sharp style that I find myself really appreciating here.  

"Lonely Bones" is the other top four track for me on this record, combining the hard-edged bluesy approach with that haunting, creepy style used in "Creep", but with some big, gang vocals on the slick "whoa oh ohs" used throughout the track.  Punchy drums, a solid bass line, hooky guitars, and smooth-yet-gritty lead vocals...yep, this song pretty much has everything that I could want from a track on this record.  Really, really good stuff here that I again find myself hitting repeat on.

"And We All Fall Down" uses some 80s rock keyboards (think Bon Jovi) combined with a slicker, poppier songwriting style to deliver an uptempo rocker that would find its way onto the tracklisting of several of the melodic rock albums being released by Frontiers Records bands today.  Another fun guitar solo is dropped into the mix here, and by this point in the record, I find it hard to come up with new ways to express just what an incredible job Roberts does as a vocalist.  He just nails the delivery and all the nuances and subtleties of handling the lead vocals on an album such as this seem to come naturally to him.  It seems obvious to me that Roberts was paying close attention to the Elefante brothers back in the early days of the band, and possibly took some lessons away from John Elefante's time in the legendary progressive rock band Kansas, as well.

Speaking of prog rock, "Lucid" is a bit of a curveball on the record, sounding more in line with 70s prog than 80s AOR or 90s/2000s melodic rock.  Think later Beatles, maybe some Electric Light Orchestra, and even hints of theatrical era Alice Cooper, with some quirky synthesizer effects at play in the verse sections of this mid-tempo number.  Not my favorite track, but definitely not throw-away material, either, "Lucid" expands upon the band's influences and presents a song that is more dependent upon synthesizers, along with vocal harmonies and layered musical textures, to set the mood than thundering drums and screaming guitars.     

"Come To Me" has a keyboard intro and opening drum line that are VERY much like the song "I've Got A Lot To Learn" by The Storm, which is a good thing, as I love that band and song.  Aside from that keyboard line, however, this is a bit more restrained song, more in the AOR ballad territory than anything else on this album, and The Brave proves they are more than capable of handling this style of song.  Roberts unleashes a great solo heading into the last runs through the chorus, filled with emotion and intensity, and his smooth vocal delivery is on full display here.  I could easily hear this song performed by the original version of the band on Battle Cries, but I honestly believe Roberts' singing and guitar playing are both miles ahead of where the band was at that time, and this song is an excellent bridge between The Brave of the past and where the band is now.

"Love: Automatic" closes the record, and once again we are treated to a hook-filled melodic rocker with a catchy, sing-along chorus, a fun guitar solo, and more of those killer harmony vocals that have highlighted so much of this record.  Uplifting and positive in nature, "Love: Automatic" is probably the perfect closing song for this record (at least of the dozen tunes presented here), as it leaves the listener on a musical high, combining all of the elements that make Evie's Little Garden such an excellent record from start to finish!

Lyrically, the album does not apologize for who the band is or what they believe, as The Brave lays it all out in the open from the very first track.  While a lot of Christian bands today choose to tackle social issues and leave some of their lyrics more open to interpretation and introspection, The Brave hearkens back to a day when singing about Jesus and boldly professing His Word was perfectly acceptable and the point.  While that may not be for everyone, and while it may drive a few listeners away, the hope is that the message also draws some listeners in, as well, providing hope and love and truth to those who may be seeking such things.  

The production is handled here by Roberts who does an excellent job of not being too heavy-handed, not too slick, and not trying to recreated the chrome-like polish of the Elefante Brothers sound from that debut Battle Cries album.  The instruments are each given life and room to breathe, and I particularly enjoy the drum sound and the excellent backing vocals used throughout the album.  Roberts proves himself far more than capable of handling the lead vocals for these new songs, and I'm sure he can tackle anything on the Trust album, as well, plus he's a top-notch guitar player that should garner more attention after this album.  Paris is solid on bass, but is irreplaceable on harmony vocals, and the drummer, Spittle, really adds a spark of energy to these tracks; the man is a rock drummer, through and through, with no quirky jazz fills or off-tempo rhythms to distract from the straight-forward,  punchy attitude of this batch of melodic hard rock songs.

Whether you are a fan of the band from back in the day, or are simply seeking some killer melodic hard rock from a new source, I can't stress enough how good this record is.  Pretty much guaranteed to be in the Top 10 of 2021, Evie's Little Garden is an absolute must-have for fans of the genre.  Available as a digital download pretty much anywhere, you can also order the CD directly from the band HERE.  I truly wish a label would pick this album up so it could get more distribution, more attention, and a broader spectrum of potential fans, but who knows if that will happen.  Once you get the record and fall in love with it, which you will, make sure you spread the word on your favorite socials so that The Brave can continue moving forward with outstanding music such as that found on Evie's Little Garden.  

Rating: A truly crankable comeback!  Crank this to an amazing 9 and let's hope we don't have to wait decades for another record from The Brave!

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