Robert Vaughn And The Shadows: Love And War (35th Anniversary Expanded Edition) [Album Review]

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Robert Vaughn And The Shadows
Love And War (35th Anniversary Expanded Edition)
Alternative Records [2023]

It’s a story as old as time. Likely all of us have at some point encountered a band, a song, an album that so impressed, so inspired and delighted us that we were convinced that they would soon be the Next Big Thing, but in spite of what should’ve, could’ve, would’ve happened if lightning would just strike twice in the same place circumstances were such that the success you imagined—if people only heard what you heard—never materialized. The debut album by San Diego band Robert Vaughn & The Shadows, Love & War, released on vinyl in 1987 on Exit Records with distribution by Island, was one such occasion for me. The album’s first single, “Justice” garnered strong reviews and was gaining airplay, and the band even made an appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand miming to the song’s recording, but with Island’s attention focused entirely on U2’s massive hit, The Joshua Tree, original promotional plans for the album and tour support evaporated, the entire Exit roster was dropped, and that was all she wrote. Like many bands, the emotional and economic turmoil led to line-up changes, although Vaughn continued writing and making demos of his songs. In 1991, indie label Alternative Records released a follow-up, Songs from the Riverhouse.

All of this would just be another sad story, if the music on Love and War wasn’t so damned appealing, and if Randy Layton of Alternative wasn’t committed to recovering and reissuing what many deemed a creative masterpiece. So, 3 and a half decades after the initial release, Layton, with help from the former Exit crew, rescued the original master recordings from the vaults, has remixed and remastered the original recordings to optimize them for the digital world, making a limited pressing of CDs as well as digital downloads available for the first time. But Layton took it even further, not only offering the complete original album, adding back the 10th song, “These Are the Days,” which was inexplicably left off the original pressing, but he has included 28 extra tracks consisting of alternative takes and demos, including several songs that haven’t been previously released, enough that the 35th Anniversary edition was a double CD worth of tunes.

But, of course, what finally matters here is that actual music, the songs and sounds themselves. While a band of its time, Robert Vaughn & The Shadows made the kind of anthemic classic rock that would fare well alongside the music of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, and the better rock moments from Billy Joel. The band’s performances deliver world class rock sounds, captured to tape smartly by original producer T.J. Tindall, a guitarist credited as the creator of the “Philadelphia Sound” who played on Gamble & Huff productions for R&B artists The Temptations, The Jacksons, The O’Jays, playing on 38 gold and platinum selling albums, including works by Robert Palmer and Bonnie Raitt.

While Love and War is the only album on his substantial resume where he’s listed as producer, it’s obvious that he brings a musician’s ear to these proceedings, as his recording serves up the various instruments impeccably. It’s crisp and polished, in the best possible meaning of those words, making sure Vaughn and Anthony Duluz’s guitars sound rich, full and fabulous, giving the rhythm section of bassist Doug Boone and drummer Greg Larocco plenty of punch, while maintaining the delicate balance so that the piano and keyboards of John Nau cut through the mix, while the saxophone of Steve Kocherhans shines whether adding fills or soulfully soloing. The band just sounds great on these recordings, which is no small feat as anybody trying to perfect the balance of a live band can tell you.

But again, as good as the music is, ultimately its the songs that matter, and Vaughn is an artful lyricist and an emotionally compelling rock vocalist. As the album title suggests, Vaughn’s lyrics deal with life’s essential issues; in an interview done years later, he suggested that these songs “are basically about the same things: the disenfranchised and the forgotten finding hope and redemption.” The title track alone is a 6 minute epic display of exceptional musicianship, from Duluz’s bright guitar rhythms and an impeccable display of guitar soloing, over the top of the funky jazz rhythem section, and a soaring sax solo, all while Vaughn declares that freedom and love are “what I was fighting for.” The opening track kicks off with a rocker, “Spanish Rebels” where they are left to flee the “guns on the left side/they got guns on the right/with the hope to carry on/and no love in sight,” they are left to “live for the day.”

“Justice,” the single, opens with Vaughn singing over the piano in a Springsteen like set-up, as he sets out to “sing a song of love and exile to my friends,” which kicks into a rock anthem where “I can hear the justice/like thunder as it’s rolling down the skies,” with a dramatic pause 2/3rds of the way in that explodes with a rocking guitar solo that leads to the conclusion. And each track feels smartly designed to extend the dramatic feel of this band hitting on all cylinders, whether it’s the warm, emotive sax and jazzy piano of “Palace of Tears” that holds their own but can’t diminish the artful guitar soloing and solid structure provided by the bass and drums. Even the brief piano ballad, “Dreaming Fields” works to set up the dramatic rock of the title track.

The bold guitars of “Love Came Falling Down” suggest a harder rock edge, a la Bad Co. or the like, while “Nights on Fire (Bye Bye Moon),” has another piano intro that builds again into the band’s monumental rock dynamic, with a certain Mark Knopfler feel to Vaughn’s vocals. The three remaining tracks to the album proper – “December,” “Bordertown,” and “These Are the Days” – live into the axiom that it’s “all killer, no filler,” delivering more of the dynamic rock of the earlier tracks in a fresh and compelling way, just adding to the band’s signature sound, with more strong guitar playing and the band’s exceptional mix of sounds and passion. Okay maybe “Bordertown” is almost too close to a Springsteen rewrite, but if you’re a sucker for that stuff like I am, well, it’s hardly worth complaining about.

Now, if you’re down with that late 80’s anthemic rock production vibe and killer anthemic dramatics, that original ten song collection alone is worth the price of admission. But Alternative has added on nearly 30 more musical tid-bits for the completists among us, and fans of seeing how the sausage is made. For instance there’s an early demo of the album’s title track when it was called “Winds of War,” plus early original demos and alternative versions of the album’s tracks to compare against the final product. Plus, demos of songs not available elsewhere, “Flower in a Hurricane,” “If the Flame Dies,” “Missing Children,” “Say,” “Writing on the Wall,” and “Open Your Window,” which suggests that there was enough more in the well for a timely follow-up had things turned out differently. It would have been lovely had things gone differently, but this music lives on, and some classic rock fans will get to hear the band that was Robert Vaughn & The Shadow for themselves, and these fine records that make up Love and War live on again.

“Justice” / “Love and War” / “Spanish Rebels”

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band / Dire Straits / Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers


Brian Q. Newcomb

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