Posts Tagged ‘Lone Justice’

Lone Justice their second album “Shelter” finds the band abandoning the cowpunk image of their debut in favor of a more polished ’80s sound. What they came up with is rather a mishmash of material that only points the way for Maria McKee to don a solo outfit and carry on alone. Shelter falls into the trap of a record company dictating how a disc should sound no matter what might happen to the group producing it. There are strong cuts here — most notably, “I Found Love” (a real ’80s-sounding product), “Wheels,” and “Dixie Storms” (which foretells Maria McKee’s future in music) all have something to recommend them. The rest falls into the trap of songs produced to fulfill obligations.

There’s lots of talk about which LJ band or album was better. The original band may have been the best, but really, when they were live, how could anyone take their eyes off the girl fronting the band!? When the electric got plugged in and the vibe hit her, there wasn’t anything like her. She said once she had a big voice from screaming over the band. What she does is so far from screaming! She just has some kind of voice!

Lone Justice was a group not unlike Big Brother & the Holding Company, who had a great female lead singer and focal point along with competent sidemen. Once the record execs ventured to guess that McKee would sell more on her own, they urged her to jettison the band, which she did after Shelter. Such is life in the record biz


With the passage of time, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Lone Justice were a great band who did their finest work in the recording studio quite some time before they put out their debut album. While the two LPs Lone Justice released in their lifetime — 1985’s Lone Justice and 1986’s Shelter — were both burdened with misguided production choices and too many guest musicians at the behest of their label, Geffen Records, the 2014 release This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, from 1983 captured them live to two-track in a no-frills demo session. The Vaught Tapes documented the interplay between Maria McKee’s stellar vocals and the band’s twangy but powerful take on rock & roll with a energetic simplicity their albums did not, and four years later, Omnivore Recordings have brought out The Western Tapes, 1983, a six-song EP that gives Lone Justice’s first demo tape a public airing for the first time.

By the time guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and singing force of nature Maria McKee got together in 1982, that scene’s scope had already expanded beyond hardcore and post-punk into blues rock, rockabilly, folk, and other realms of Americana courtesy of the Blasters, X, the Gun Club, and others. In their day, Lone Justice shared the goofy genre label “cowpunk” with similarly country-besotted rock bands like Rank and File, Jason and the Scorchers, and the Long Ryders.

McKee was an 18-year-old with a giant voice and a charismatic presence that intuitively plays to the crowd even when the crowd was just Vaught and her bandmates. It’s no coincidence that Dolly Parton (who contributes an endorsement to the liner notes) was an early fan; in addition to a vocal similarity, neither can mask that personal effervescence — a joy in performing — no matter how sad the song.

There’s no missing that Lone Justice could play. Hedgecock, in particular, comes off better here than on the self-titled album, laying down intricate country-rock licks that producer Jimmy Iovine would largely bury under additional guitars and layers of organ (from Heartbreaker-on-loan Benmont Tench).

Cut in May 1983, this EP features the group’s first lineup, with McKee and guitarist/songwriter Ryan Hedgecock joined by bassist Dave Harringtonand drummer Don Willens, and if this rhythm section boasts a bit less snap than the classic lineup with Marvin Etzioni (who produced this session) and Don Heffington, this band still has an energy and freshness that are absolutely winning. Etzioni was also a more savvy producer than Lone Justice usually had behind the controls; the sound is straightforward but full-bodied, he brought out solid performances from everyone on board, and the decision to bring in David Mansfield to add fiddle and pedal steel on some of the tunes was inspired. And Maria McKee’s voice is still a thing of wonder all these years later, a pure country instrument that still has the force to sing thoroughly convincing rock & roll. One can’t help wish some smart indie label had cut a low-budget album on this band in the manner of the Blasters’ outstanding self-titled album for Slash that would have documented their heyday before Geffen got ahold of them. But between The Western Tapes and This Is Lone Justice, we now have some reasonable approximation of it, and this is great fun from a band that had a lot to offer — more than their best-known work might suggest.

thanks to allmusic for the words

Lone Justice Lead singer Maria McKee: “Barely out of her teens, she comes on with a spitfire defiance and a repertoire of yelps, growls, and shouts that are the essence of country spunk.” Three decades later, This classic debut album Lone Justice still sounds like an astonishingly precocious debut for McKee, even if the band sometimes sets up obstacles for her to leap over (she always does), and the production tilts the whole enterprise toward mainstream rock (especially on Tom Petty’s “Ways To Be Wicked”, which could be an outtake from an ’80s Heartbreakers album like Long After Dark). No matter. From the moment she steps up to the mic on the opening phrases of “East Of Eden”,  McKee is a dynamo in a lineage that includes singers like Wanda Jackson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Linda Ronstadt when she was still in the Stone Poneys .

There the rousing Soap Soup and Salvation , playing the part of a save-my-land heroine on After The Flood, or trying to salvage a failing relationship on the touching ballad Don’t Toss Us Away  (written by her brother Bryan MacLean, who was a member of the seminal L.A. band Love) , McKee never missteps. She can break the momentum of a line, slip out for a half-spoken interjection, then fall right back into the melody, and nothing seems to rattle her. From the moment they appeared on the club circuit, the buzz on Lone Justice spread cross-country rapidly, so anticipation was high for this first album, and for their animated live shows, which often would include a take on Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane that was a twang-infused hybrid, punk-country with a touch of the Rolling Stones around the time of  Let It Bleed . Lone Justice aren’t spoken about much these days; you wonder how big they might’ve gotten if there were such a thing as “Americana” in the mid-’80s. check out this live set in 1985 at the Ritz in New York City.

The Band

Additional personnel

  • Mike Campbell  – guitar
  • Tony Gilkyson – guitar
  • Bob Glaub – bass
  • Little Steven – guitar, rhythm guitar
  • Benmont Tench – organ, piano, keyboard, background vocals