Depending on the age of the company you keep, the complaints concerning the dearth of bands keeping the spirit of classic rock and roll alive is either an intermittent interruption or a perpetually persistent protest. Unsurprisingly, those that rend their vintage Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Grateful Dead tie-dyes like rock and roll martyrs often profess ignorance at the existence of bands like My Morning Jacket, though they tend to have a fleeting knowledge of Grace Potter and “that one song” by the Alabama Shakes (except everyone remembers a different song). If you’re growing weary of cycling though the Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers and Band catalogs, rest assured, there is Justice is in this world: Leroy Justice.
If this were 1973, Leroy Justice would be headlining Madison Square Garden as part of a rambling caravan style tour. Alas, in 2013, heartfelt rock and roll that soars to enthralling levels when aired out on stage doesn’t have the ready-built audience that it did in the Seventies. It’s not that bands that draw their inspiration from the vinyl era of rock and roll are a rare breed; quite the contrary, they are legion. What makes the majority of them unfulfilling is their inclination to imitate or reinterpret riffs long perfected by classic rock radio mainstays and the bluesmen of yore rather than use them as the jumping off point for their own sound. That Leroy Justice isn’t the first band to draw on their earnest love of true rock and roll doesn’t diminish the fact that they have perfected its craft. This past month, during their civically-entitled Bowling For Justice residency at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl, Leroy Justice offered a nice reminder that bands keeping the rock ethos alive can still be a glorious revelation. To belabor the tired literary construct, justice in this regard for Justice has been well-earned. On their debut album, Revolution’s Son, Leroy Justice showed a fine aptitude for ’70s era Rolling Stones finesse and brawny, whiskey-soaked bar room rockers. Where Revolution’s Son served notice that Leroy Justice could be the wild-eyed menacing stranger that kicks in the saloon door and demands reckoning, its follow up, The Loho Sessions, showed that a wickedly keen intelligence existed beneath the feral façade and marked the first step of the band’s evolution from barroom blues rockers into a mighty rock and roll band.
Every journey has peaks and valleys; if the band’s split with guitarist Brendan Cavanaugh marked a nadir, the Bowling For Justice residency should serve as its corresponding apex. Over the years, it has seemed like it’s been lead singer Jason Gallagher’s destiny to become one of rock’s more charismatic frontmen and the Brooklyn Bowl shows highlighted the fact that he is well down that path. A truly confident singer, Gallagher draws strength from Justin Mazer’s potent lead guitar and Sloan Marshall’s timeless organ fills. With bassist Bradley Wegner and drummer Josh Karis solidifying into a powerfully effective rhythm section, Leroy Justice presently embodies all that makes rock and roll such an enriching experience.
With the breadth a residency offers at their disposal, Justice touched on their first two albums, welcomed a few guests, sprung a wide-ranging slew of covers and most significantly, previewed songs from Above The Weather, their upcoming album which will see its April release through Elm City Music with distribution through EMI/Universal. Yes folks, despite all you may have heard, there will be major label involvement with a rock and roll band and none of the members of the band are relatives of Justin Bieber or dating Taylor Swift. There may still be hope for us all.
Each night of the residency featured updated arrangements of songs like Revolution’s Son, Bender and Temporary Cure that incorporated Mazer’s take on Justice staples, the latter evolving into a set-closing improvisational showcase. The residency’s midpoint featured appearances from Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz, singer Anise White, guitarist Mike Mizwinski and a horn section led by Michael Kammers of the MK Groove Orchestra. In addition to busting out covers of Status Quo’s Pictures Of Matchstick Men, Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World and Stevie Wonder’s I Wish, Justice cooked up a fine batch of Memphis Soul Stew.
On the residency’s last night, Justice resurrected their start-to-finish cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be (as opposed to The Replacements, which we would be cool in its own right; some band is free to rip that suggestion off with impunity as long as they invite me to the show) which they first performed – in full Beatlemania regalia – at their 2008 Halloween show at the Bottom Line. The true piece de resistance of the residency was the preview of material from their upcoming third album, which could ultimately lay claim to the title of rock album of the year. Songs like Blue Eyed Blues and Worry are full of Black Crowes quality grit while others like Two Trees and So Long are arena-ready anthems in the vein of My Morning Jacket. This will be a discussion we revisit in April.
OFFRAMPS AND REST STOPS
Whenever a band returns to the stage after any type of hiatus, there is always reason to rejoice. Last month, when the London Souls headlined the Bowery Ballroom as an apparent prelude to the release of their sophomore album, there was added cause to celebrate due to the uncertainty over whether guitarist Tash Neal would ever make such a return.
As the band and Neal’s family did not saturate social media with news of the guitarist’s recovery from the serious injuries he sustained in automobile accident this past summer, the future of the London Souls remained wholly unclear. A simply electrifying guitarist, Neal’s return proved gratifying from a musical standpoint and edifying in every other non-musical perspective. While reviews of the Here Come The Girls, the Souls’ new album, have surfaced, the album hasn’t. If the Bowery Ballroom show serves as any indication though, the new songs lack the energy of their self-titled debut and Neal’s recovery may very likely prove to be a bigger story than the new album.
One of the more interesting releases this year has been Lysandre, the solo debut of Christopher Owens, which in a slightly literary turn serves as a partial autobiography of the former Girls’ lead singer. The album imparts the tale of a songwriter hitting the road for the first time with his band, meeting an ex-boyfriend and finding a new girlfriend. For most musicians, this would seem like an insipidly self-indulgent endeavor and it may not be tremendously unfair for anyone to direct that criticism here.
Detached from the other members of Girls, the medieval flutes, orchestral flourishes and Donovan-like hippie meanderings that underscored his previous band’s efforts are given unfettered room to breathe. This difference may cause some to react to Lysandre like a toga-clad Bluto confronting a folk singer in a fraternity house stairwell (how does one smash an mp3 to pieces?) but there’s soul searching honesty to the album that makes it a compelling listen. Girls is just one facet of Owens genuinely interesting life story, which includes being raised under the tenets of a religious cult and developing a relationship with a philanthropist/subversive artist presently being sued for the sexual abuse of teenage boys; he is simply too fascinating a character to ignore.
Too often, we marginalize music as uncool in the belief that it’s the type of music our parents would enjoy. Funny to think that the classic rock and jambands we relish today will one day cause our children to groan and pitch a hissy-fit cause they want to listen to the latest electronic hip-hop boy band that’s all the rage. Nonetheless, singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Antonio Carlos Jobim seem to be exempt from such passive-aggressive scorn, though the latter is not as widely known. On From Gainsbourg To Lulu, Lulu Gainsbourg, the son of hipster Serge Gainsbourg, wades deeply into the cooler-than-thou waters of yesteryear. On his intriguing debut, Gainsbourg seamlessly moves from straightforward jazz to Iggy Pop fronted rockers with a startling ambivalence to genre or convention. Of note, he and Scarlett Johannson cover Bonnie & Clyde, his father’s duet with Brigitte Bardot, in a manner that pays as much homage to the song as to its original singers.