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Country - Released January 14, 2014 | Omnivore Recordings

When Lone Justice exploded onto the L.A. club scene in 1983, plenty of folks expected them to become one of the biggest bands in the nation within a matter of months. The combination of Maria McKee's vocals (which suggested she could be Dolly Parton's little sister gone wild in the big city), Ryan Hedgecock's guitar (a blazing fusion of country, rockabilly and punk influences), Marvin Etzioni's bass (who anchored the melodies with his loping, rock-solid bottom end), and Don Heffington's drumming (some of the most profound shuffles ever captured by recording equipment) was joyously combustible, and everyone from Tom Petty to Dolly Parton stepped up to see them deliver the message on-stage in their hometown. However, Lone Justice was so universally expected to be the next big thing that Geffen Records overcooked their self-titled 1985 debut album with overbearing production and big-name guest stars, and the band never quite overcame the weight of the expectations set before them. But if you want to know what all that early hype was about, This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983 allows fans to hear what the band sounded like before outside hands started applying the polish. This Is Lone Justice is a 12-song demo cut live to two-track tape with engineer David Vaught in December 1983; the recording is clean and straightforward, offering a well-detailed but unadorned portrait of this music, and the band sounds brilliantly tight and intuitive, meshing perfectly and creating a forceful, organic sound that's more than the sum of the impressive parts. While McKee's voice is clearly the drawing card here -- if any performer could be called a charming flamethrower, it's her -- the band is a near-perfect match for her rollicking country-punk testimony, and it's not at all difficult to imagine how great they must have sounded on-stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd. While Lone Justice's debut album was too tricked up for its good, This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes is a bit too unadorned in spots, and a few judicious overdubs and a more artful mix might have better served these tunes (several of which never made it onto a Lone Justice album). But this remains a stronger and more engaging document of Lone Justice's brief moment of greatness than has ever seen authorized release, and 30 years on, this still sounds like a band that could have taken on the world if they'd been allowed to follow their own path. ~ Mark Deming

Country - Released December 21, 2018 | Omnivore Recordings

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, 1983 captured them live to two-track in a no-frills demo session. The Vaught Tapes documented the interplay between Maria McKee's stellar voice 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. Cut in May 1983, this EP features the group's first lineup, with McKee and guitarist/songwriter Ryan Hedgecock joined by bassist Dave Harrington and 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. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released January 1, 1999 | Geffen Records

This hot elegy album for the dearly departed Lone Justice is sheer rockabilly road-trip, as well as an illuminating artifact by a smart (albeit frustrated) "crossover" band. Blends of hardcore old-country roots and fast modern originality can be iffy on the charts, but the efforts of post-Emmylou Harris drummer Don Heffington, Little Steven collaborator Ryan Hedgecock on guitar, and bassist Marvin "Mandolin Man" Etzioni are committed. In typical Justice fashion all songs are tagged by the distinct Kate Pierson-meets-Dolly Parton vocals of Maria McKee; in Emmylou-like "East of Eden" we hear great drums behind a rambly hand jive riff and lots of big-hair yelling. Highway rocker "Ways to Be Wicked" is all tambourines and banshee vibrato, and dramatic Maria gets talkative on stage with the lovestruck "Sweet Sweet Baby." A foot-stompin' good-time record. ~ Becky Byrkit