LIBERTY 'N JUSTICE - THE CIGAR CHRONICLES (2-CD SET, 2012)
The mission of The Cigar Chronicles is to become the quintessential Liberty N’ Justice “all-star” project release. Is that a tall order, or what? Particularly when factoring the praise Angelic Warlord has heaped on past LNJ album, including Soundtrack Of A Soul (2006), Independence Day (2007), Light It Up (2010), Chasing A Cure (2011) and Hell Is Coming To Breakfast (2012). Let’s take a closer look at them:
Soundtrack Of A Soul showcased “a polished but guitar driven sound heavily rooted in the eighties” (as taken from the 80% Angelic Warlord review) that played up a “combination of melodic metal, commercial hard rock, melodic rock and glam metal”. Highlights include groove driven rocker “Kings Of Hollywood” and grit driven hard rock of “Another Nail”, fronted by Ez Gomer (Jet Circus) and Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), respectively. Equally laudable are high energy metal pieces “Grenade”, featuring Dale and Troy Thompson (Bride), and “Killer Grin”, with Stephen Pearcy (Ratt) lending his sassy sensibilities. All in all, SOAS proves a solid representation of the eighties based LNJ sound.
LNJ delivered somewhat of a surprise on Independence Day, “exploring acoustic heavy rock territory” while also “proving a lively and inspired work characterized by maturity in the area of songwriting” (as described in the 85% Angelic Warlord review). Standing out is the albums bluesy title track, highlighted by Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge) on vocals, and smoother AOR touches to “Meet My Monster” with Tony Mills (TNT) behind the mic. Also of note is the lively “Bullet, Train, Breakdown”, showcasing Jaime St. James’ (Black N’ Blue) raspy qualities, and darker flavorings to “Snake Eat Snake”, playing up an emotional performance from David Raymond Reeves (Neon Cross). Again, a bit different but upholds the same high quality.
LNJ remained in top form on Light It Up, its “best all-star project to date” (from the 90% Angelic Warlord review) with its “joining of melodic metal, hair metal, hard rock, melodic rock and AOR (not unlike SOAS)”. Choice cuts are almost too numerous to mention, but the commercial hooks to the albums title track, groove based “Treading On Serpents” and patriotic metal piece “Uncle Sam”, Phil Lewis (LA Guns), Les Carlson (Bloodgood) and Sheldon Tarsha (Adler’s Appetite) fronting in descending order, are worthy contenders. The more commercial sounds of “Beautiful Decision” (Harry Hess) and “For Better Or Worse” (Shawn Pelata) stand out equally well. Light It Up is as good as it gets as far as eighties melodic metal and hard rock is concerned.
Chasing A Cure maintains the commercial trend with its “blend of melodic rock, AOR and (melodic) hard rock” that falls “in between Independence Day and Light It Up (as a result of showcasing) some of the acoustic touches of the former but is not quite as guitar heavy as the latter” (80% Angelic Warlord review). It also plays up the “all-star” theme with appearances from vocalists Donnie Vie (Enuff Z’ Nuff), Terry Ilous (XYZ) and Phillip Bardowell (Magdalen) and guitarists Joshua Perahia (Joshua), Bill Leverty (Firehouse) and Tony Palacios (Guardian). The albums title track delivers some radio friendly overtones and “Say Uncle” a heavier rocking stance, while lighter acoustic touches lace “Throwing Stones” and “Paige’s Song”. Other highlights include the electric version to “Snake Eat Snake” and Kerry Livgren cover “Ground Zero”.
Of note: Chasing A Cure was recorded with the goal of raising awareness for epilepsy research. This hits close to home for founding member Justin Murr, whose oldest daughter Trinity was diagnoses with epilepsy at age 7. All proceeds from the sales of Chasing A Curse, as a result, have been given to The Epilepsy Foundation in Trinity’s name.
Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, made up of a mixture of The Cigar Chronicles outtakes, alternate versions of songs and rare demo material, “features some of the heaviest songs from LNJ to date” that “reminded of Light It Up and Soundtrack Of A Soul (80% Angelic Warlord review). “Whack A Mole”, “Nakatomi Plaza” and “Stretch Armstrong” deliver a wallop, while the Petra cover “Thankful Heart”, semi-ballad “Madhatter” and acoustic version of “Sin” lighten the mood in comparison. Also of merit is the bluesy hard rock to “Your Memory Just Won’t Do” and remix of “Monkey Dance”. Guest appearances there were in a plenty, including Louis St. August (Mass), Jamie Rowe (Guardian), Jani Lane (Warrant), Tony Mills (TNT) and many others.
Which finally brings us to The Cigar Chronicles, the seventh and final LNJ “all-star” based project (LNJ will be turning into a full piece band on all forthcoming releases). Murr sums things up best in regards to TCC, as taken from the LNJ press material: "With TCC we wanted everything bigger and louder! The album features big guitars, big hooks, big vocals, and the thing that makes a LNJ project... Big Names! This is the most commercial sounding record we have ever released and I promise this record rocks!!"
TCC stays true to past LNJ releases with its emphasis on eighties influences melodic metal and hard rock (this is where those “big guitars, big hooks and big vocals” come into play) joined with some AOR and melodic rock touches (lending to that “most commercial sounding record” aspect). The overall impression is that TCC trends towards a heavier sound not unlike Hell Is Coming To Breakfast, Soundtrack Of A Soul and Light It Up, albeit you will also encounter the occasional accessible overtone of Chasing A Cure and acoustic lacing to Independence Day.
Also standing out about TCC is how it upholds the same solid production values of past LNJ releases.
TCC is actually a two volume CD set that breaks down evenly (13 songs each), with the first volume featuring covers of mainstream pop hits and second original LNJ cuts. Also similar to past LNJ releases the two volumes add up to a “who’s who” of guest musicians from the melodic metal and hard rock scenes that are almost too numerous to mention: Vocalists Louis St. August (Mass), Jamie Rowe (Guardian), Ted Poley (Danger Danger), Jani Lane (Warrant) and Larry Worley (Fear Not) lend their talents in addition to guitarists George Lynch (Dokken), Vic Rivera (Crunch), Greg Martin (Kentucky Headhunters) and Michael Phillips (The Sacrificed). In other words, those previously referenced “Big Names” make their presence felt in no uncertain terms!
I felt it would be best not to do one of my standard track by track breakdowns (I am sure you are as interested in reading a track by track of all 26 songs as I am of writing it!). Rather, I decided to break the review down by Volume, with several detailed paragraphs devoted to each. In terms of the grading system, I assigned a grade to each Volume and then evened both out to decide upon a final grade for the project.
What we have in the original material is perhaps the best collection of LNJ songs to date, or at the very least right up there with Light It Up. Consistency is the key in that all tracks hold up under repeat play. Yes, some are better than others (at least my opinion) but nothing that can be relegated to “filler” category or considered skip button worthy either.
My favorites include those leaning towards the mid-paced and guitar driven, with the non-stop hooks of “Been There Done That” (Danger Danger vocalist Ted Poley adding a gravelly presence) and groove laden “Sucker Punched” (killer bass line and powerful vocals from Rick Stitch of Hotel Diablo) standing out. “Broken Bones”, a low-end slugger with complementary rough edged vocals from Giancarlo Floridia (Faithsedge), deserves merit as does the bluesy metal of “Cupids Gonna Bleed”, with a trade off between edgier “sick of eating crow” backing vocals and Gunnar Nelson’s (Nelson) more even touch.
Good moments can also be found in the more up-tempo material. “Devil His Dues” takes a spirited approach for its catchy chorus but can also descend into some laid back portions that hint of Bon Jovi’s “Dead Of Alive”. Also of note is how front man Derrick LeFevre (Lillian Axe) ties both together with his husky flavorings. The perseverant “Cut Me Mick”, fronted by the muscular Ron Keel (Keel) and featuring the lightning-like leads of Michael Phillips (The Sacrificed), shines, as does “The Greatest”, highlighting an uplifting metal aura and David Cagle’s (Chasing Karma) snarling vocal mentality.
Also of note is the songs forthright lyrical direction:
What is the greatest?
Where is the truth?
What is the greatest?
What should we do?
It’s about love
Love thy neighbor
It’s about love
Most of all love your God
Four very good ballads can be found as well. My favorite is the “electric” version of “Sin”, a haunting semi-ballad featuring the late Jani Lane and some of the projects more upfront lyrics:
In the valley of our choices
Where we dwell in our own shame
Tempted by desires
Choking guilt back every day
Let me be the man I could have done
The one You first breathed life into
My soul in Your embrace
Deliver me, deliver from my sins
You will also encounter a classic ballad in “Tomorrow”, this one has radio friendly written all over it, in addition to the hard rock ballad “Grace”. The abundant range of Terry Ilous (Great White) shines on the former and heartfelt presence of Michael Bormann (Jaded Heart) the latter. Of equal note is the acoustic based “Under Construction” with the moving touches of Eric Dover (Slash’s Snakepit).
Cannot say I am the biggest fan of “covers” albums (or songs), but the few that I have embraced are characterized by the artist “stepping outside the box” and adding their unique spin to things- as opposed to staying true to the original to a fault. Consider the Petra cover “Thankful Heart” off HICTB, which takes the more steadfast and upbeat direction in comparison to the original. This is an example of how to do things right in terms of covering previously recorded material.
The same can also be said for the Kip Winger fronted “Stayin’ Alive’, originally an overbearing disco hit but now an exemplary emotionally laced acoustic rendering. FM radio where are you? My favorite, however, is the toned down and bluesy acoustic rock U2 cover “Pride (In The Name Of Love). Credit CJ Snare (Firehouse) for his low-key and refined vocal performance.
Likewise, “Ice Ice Baby” is now pumped up with a ton of metal muscle, Seann Nicols (Adler’s Appetite) adds a raspy element to the heavy duty scene, as has been pile driver “Bye Bye Bye, with prodigious projection from Chas West (Bonham). The overriding keyboards to “Dancing On The Ceiling” are now replaced with hard rock guitars in serving up the more spirited tempo- not to mention added power and guts from James Christian (House Of Lords), at least in comparison to Lionel Ritchie.
“Stuck In The Middle With You” has been turned into a gritty melodic hard rocker (as opposed to the hippie acoustic rock of the original. Can you say more cowbell?). “I Can’t Dance” slams hard with some almost militant riffs, trouncing the more even Genesis rendering, with Stevie Rachell (TUFF) proving more than a match for Phil Collins in the process. “Iris” takes a fitting hair metal approach, complemented by big backing vocals and Tony Harnell’s (TNT) lush voice, while the same can be said for Carl Simon’s “Your So Vain”, showcasing Phil Lewis’ (LA Guns) sassy qualities.
Please note that not everything works. “Mmmbop”, for instance, retains too much of a slick and syrupy pop based feel no matter what type of heavier frosting you cover it- at least as far as my ears are concerned. Nevertheless, it is good to hear Jamie Rowe (Guardian) again. In a similar vein, I failed to warm up to “YMCA”, quirky in its original form but slightly awkward as a hard rock cover. Perhaps I am off base here in that the whole focus of the pop based covers was to have fun and do something different as a result. Credit LNJ in this area in that they could have also done an all too predictable covers CD of contemporaries such as Warrant, Winger, Bon Jovi, Stryper, Holy Soldier, etc. So the best way to sum up would be to enjoy the covers for what they are- fun renderings of the pop based originals even though you might not embrace them all. In other words, do not fall into the trap of takings things a bit too seriously here!
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Volume 1): “Ice Ice Baby”, “I Can’t Dance”, “Pride (In The Name Of Love”), “Stayin’ Alive”, “YMCA”, “Iris”, “You’re So Vain”, “Queen Of The Night”, “Blame It On The Rain”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Dancing On The Ceiling”, “Stuck In The Middle With You”, “Mmmbop”
Track Listing (Volume 2): “Devil His Dues”, “The Greatest”, “Cupids Gonna Bleed”, “Under Construction”, “Been There Done That”, “Grace”, “Sucker Punched”, “Broken Bones”, “Sin”, “Give Em’ A Light”, “Daddy Long Legs”, “Cut Me Mick”, “Tomorrow”