Few new bands receive the kind of critical buzz that Lone Justice generated prior to the release of their first album in 1985, and one senses the band (not to mention producer Jimmy Iovine and Geffen Records) wanted to deliver something special to merit the hype. Which was not necessarily a good thing; Lone Justice is an album that tries so hard to be great that it sometimes ends up tripping over its own ambitions. The record leaves no doubt that the first edition of Lone Justice was a very good band; on the best cuts, Maria McKee's voice sounds like a force of nature, bassist Marvin Etzioni and drummer Don Heffington are a strong and imaginative rhythm section whether they were playing souped-up country shuffles or fifth-gear rock & roll, and if guitarist Ryan Hedgecock isn't quite a virtuoso, he's solid and inspired when he gets to step to the forefront. But guest keyboardist Benmont Tench and the other high-priced help (including Little Steven, Mike Campbell, and an uncredited Annie Lennox) often overwhelm the group's personality, and while McKee's songs celebrating the heart and soul of rural America are unquestionably sincere, they don't always ring true ("After the Flood" and "Pass It On" sound more like writing exercises than narratives centered around believable characters), and they also seem to inspire Iovine's most bombastic production decisions. Where Lone Justice succeeds is on straight-ahead rockers like "East of Eden" and "Working Late," the C&W weeper "Don't Toss Us Away," and the tough "love gone bad" number "Way to Be Wicked," all of which prove that this band really did have the goods. In the wake of the 1990s alt-country movement, in which dozens of bands mined similar musical territory with more satisfying results, Lone Justice sounds like an example of too many cooks spoiling the soup; there's enough good stuff to make it worth hearing, but its hard not to wish Lone Justice had gotten the sort of sympathetic but hands-off production that allowed Wilco and the Jayhawks to do their best work.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming