by Derric Miller
– Managing Editor —
There are entirely too many bands whom writers and critics call underrated. The only time all of them are right is when they use “underrated” and “Lillian Axe” in the same sentence. The album Love and War should be on everyone’s “if stranded alone on a desert island what three albums would you want” list. In part unheralded, unrecognized and unrewarded, Lillian Axe is one of those rare bands who continued to make the same quality music when changing singers. Sure, original recording vocalist Ron Taylor was a man among boys back in the ‘80s, but he was up against shriekers like Mark Slaughter, multi-octave legends like Tony Harnell, talented singing screamers like Sebastian Bach and harsh high-pitched bullhorns like David Wayne. Taylor sounded like a man, even when hitting the high notes, and maybe that’s why their music didn’t resonate as well as it should have at that time. But he was as good as them all.
In other words, Lillian Axe is one of the best bands ever to come out of the ‘80s. Period.
As they changed vocalists with Taylor exiting the band, they went on to record Waters Rising, Sad Day on Planet Earth and Deep Red Shadows with singer Derrick LeFevre and XI: The Days Before Tomorrow with vocalist Brian Jones. While none of those albums quite matched Love and War, they certainly hold their own against Poetic Justice and Fields of Yesterday. (Probably not Psychoschizophrenia, though; that one nearly caught up to Love and War.)
The theme holding all of these components together is founding guitarist and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee Steve Blaze, who has consistently written some of the best songs in the genre for decades. And THAT’S why they could change singers and still be so damn good … Blaze writes songs like no one else. He’s unique, thought-provoking and so creative if others aren’t jealous, they aren’t paying attention.
Those songs he wrote … are eternal.
And now you get to hear them live and acoustic on One Night at the Temple.
The most unique part of the album is hearing Blaze tell the stories behind the songs. On “See You Someday” Blaze talks about how this song helped people overcome tragedies in their lives, breakups and deaths; “Bow Your Head” he explains the song is about a boy who passed away before he was three years old, and it’s a celebration of his life; “The Day I Met You” is what he calls a standard wedding song inspired by Beatles; and “Promised Land” helped a man who lost his fiancée in a car accident stop from taking his own life. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but really, there is something positive in every song’s message.
For fans of their early work who didn’t pay attention to them after Fields of Yesterday, it’s different hearing someone other than Taylor sing on the earlier Lillian Axe tracks. But Brian Jones kills on songs like “Ghost of Winter,” is haunting and emotional when he needs to be, and rages at the end in true homage to what your ears remember. It might be even a bit weirder when songs like “Misery Loves Company” and “Nobody Knows” start, because their original singer Johnny Vines takes the mic. It’s cool knowing that they went from someone with a clean and throaty delivery to Taylor, who in many ways is Vines’ opposite, stylistically. But he’s a damn good singer too. Blaze has worked with four different singers, and he obviously has a talent for picking vocal talent. (Won’t mention the short multi-day period when Ronnie Munroe was/wasn’t their singer, who is awesome too and would have made it a fifth singer Blaze worked with.)
Jones shines brightest when singing the songs he recorded, like “Death Comes Tomorrow” and “The Great Divide,” but he still nails everything else.
The atmosphere is so intimate, the recording is impeccable, and as far as albums go in the pantheon of live acoustic recordings, this is at least as good as Tesla’s Five Man Acoustical Jam. It may even be better …
This many songs, celebrating their past and present, in this environment, should be both inspiring and intimidating if you are a recording artist. This is how a real band sounds, from a songwriting and live performance perspective. Exactly how in the hell and who in the hell is ever going to top this one? The gauntlet has been cast down.
In a year that thus far has been somewhat musically devoid of a “wow factor,” Lillian Axe just wrote the blueprint as how to write, record, play and be the best. If the rest of the world would just pick up on that, there’d be a lot more credible music fans and critics around.
Genre: Hard Rock
Brian Jones (lead vocals)
Steve Blaze (guitar and vocals)
Sam Poitevent (guitar and vocals)
Eric Morris (bass guitar)
Ken Koudelka (drums)
• Waters Rising
• Death Comes Tomorrow
• Ghost Of Winter
• See You Someday
• The Great Divide
• Nocturnal Symphony
• Sad Day On Planet Earth
• Bow Your Head
• Show A Little Love
• Misery Loves Company
• The World Stop Turning
• Dyin’ To Live (Shades Of Blue)
• Until The End Of The World
• The Day I Met You
• The Promised Land
• Nobody Knows
• My Apologies
• True Believer
• Nobody Knows (Crowd Version)
Label: MelodicRock Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 9.5/10