Retro Review: Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985)

Lone Justice came out of the LA Cowpunk scene that gave us X, Jason & the Scorchers and Social Distortion, to name a few. Fronted by whirling dervish Marie McKee (imagine a high energy Stevie Nicks in shorter dresses with a slight snarl) and backed by guitarist Ryan Hedgecock, bassist Marvin Etzioni and drummer Don Heffington, Lone Justice quickly made a name for themselves in the uber competitive LA music scene. Eventually earning the support of Heartbreaker (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) Benmont Tench and Linda Ronstadt.

After of flurry music business shenanigans, Lone Justice signed to the ascendant Geffen Records and hired Jimmy Iovine to produce their debut album. At the time, he was still just a rock and roll producer (albeit an A-list one). We were still years away from “peak Iovine”.

While Etzioni and McKee were more than capable songwriters, Geffen wasn’t taking any chances and enlisted outside help to pen songs for the bands self titled debut. Enter Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and former E-Street’er and Disciple of Soul, Steven Van Zandt. Each added their skills as ink slingers and, where needed, Campbell, Tench and Van Zandt pitched in as musicians.

Side one opens with the Etzioni penned, Steinbeck influenced and punk infused “East of Eden”. McKee’s less punky and more poppy “After the Flood” follows and it’s here you begin to hear the percolating of what would later become Americana. The Petty/Campbell contribution “Ways to be Wicked” was an odd choice for the second single. Let’s say there’s no way Tom Petty would have sung this song. What follows is the sweet and pensive “Don’t Toss Us Away” written by Bryan MacLean. MacLean was the half brother of McKee and original member of iconic ’60’s band Love (in 1988, this song was a top five country hit for singer Patti Loveless). Side one closes with another of Etzioni’s punk infused blasts “Working Late”. These five songs clock in at under 20 minutes. They tell you exactly who Lone Justice is and what they can do.

Side two opens with what was their first single “Sweet Sweet Baby (I’m Falling)”. If I had a dollar for every mix tape this song was on . . . this song should’ve been a big hit. “Pass It On” is marginally anthemic in that baby U2 kinda way. The impassioned “Wait Til We Get Home” begs for subjugated partners everywhere to turn and wave their index finger at their lover or spouse and sing along (a more sultry version is below). “Soup, Soup and Salvation” is a fiery, good ol’ fashioned foot stomping, barn burner. The album closes with the beautiful and soft “You are the Light”. If I had a dollar for every mix tape this song was on . . .

It seems like the band got to let loose a little on these last few songs. And you can hear it.

This Lone Justice album clocks in at under 40 minutes and it doesn’t need a minute more. What the music business seems to have been forgotten over the ensuing years is that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Even today Lone Justice emphasizes that point.

The reviews on Lone Justice were good to great. Deservedly so. The album was on many “Best of” lists for 1985, including the coveted Village Voice list (for those who don’t know, it was a thing). One Rolling Stone critic even went so far as to say it was “one of the greatest albums ever made”. Now I love this album, and it is very good AND it holds up extremely well, but even I wouldn’t go that far . . . but I don’t disagree with the sentiment.

Despite having all the ingredients, Lone Justice, the band or the album, just didn’t find an audience. It’s a shame. But, it’s never too late. Do yourself a favor and skip all the Best Of’s and go right for this album.

Lone Justice  has always been, and always will be,  on my desert album list. Perhaps not one of the greatest albums ever made, it is flawless.

The Lone Justine line-up of McKee, Etzioni, Hedgecock and Heffington imploded after the failure of their debut. Etzioni and Heffington left while McKee and Hedgecock brought in some hired gun to make their sophomore album, the uneven Shelter. McKee disbanded Lone Justice shortly after its release.

Maria McKee continues to have a successful career as a singer-songwriter and has recently begun acting.

Marvin Etzioni continues to have a successful career as a producer and musician.

Don Heffington has played with a who’s who of artist’s and continues to have a successful career as drummer/percussionist.

Ryan Hedgecock plays guitar and lives in Los Angeles, California.

Watch & Listen – “Wait ‘Til We Get Home” Live @ The Ritz NYC 1985: