One of the greatest bands to ever make their mark via the Christian music scene is without a doubt a powerhouse act known as The Brave. Subsequentially, they also happened to have had a huge impact in the life of a 16-year-old new to the faith Christian. Hailing from my hometown of Lancaster CA. I started my journey following these guys’ careers when they were originally called Faxx (first with only one X in the name). Back in the day, Faxx managed to get the attention of The Elephante brothers when they got to play alongside the legendary Guardian, (remember that gig Stayce? I booked you guys together in Littlerock, CA). That gig eventually led to them changing their name to The Brave, signing with Pakaderm, and releasing two stellar albums, 1992’s Battle Cries and 1994’s Trust. The latter saw the band’s drummer Randy Roberts take over the lead vocalist position and change musical directions just a bit offering up a more blues-infused sound than its predecessor. Both albums were well received but their debut seems to be the more favored of the two. In 2014 they released Rise, an album consisting of re-recorded tracks and five new tunes. Following the untimely death of Roberts, the vocalist position was taken over this time by a female singer (Amanda Z). This did not sit well with most fans including myself. I chalk it up to the reaction I probably would have had if Van Halen were successful in bringing Patty Smyth (Scandal) onboard following Roth’s departure and prior to selecting Hagar as the band’s new frontman. I’ll just leave it at that.
The Brave 2021 consists of original members Stayce Roberts on guitar and vocals, Malcolm Paris on bass, and drummer John Spittle who played with the guys during the Trust tour. After nearly 30 years the band is finally releasing their first full-length album of all-new material since 1994, and the album is a total scorcher at that! Evie’s Little Garden is twelve tracks of pure unadulterated hard rock bliss.
Beginning with the title cut, it is rather easy to hear the growth that the band has achieved over the years. While maintaining that 80’s AOR precedent set forth by their early work, the guys have also kept their music relevant in the scheme of today’s environment. Let’s face it, the sounds most of us grew up on never get old and are much more favorable than the majority of today’s modern music. That’s why despite what some may say, Rock is still quite alive and will never die! “Evie’s Little Garden” (the song) is a mid-tempo rocker that at first comes across as a slowed-down homage to The Knack’s “My Sharona.” It, however, does not rest there and takes on a life of its own with a super catchy chorus that sticks in your head for days. Evie’s little garden, meet Stayce’s nasty little guitar riff! Wow! This is exactly what I would expect from Mr. Roberts on guitar but to be perfectly honest I didn’t think he had it in him to pull off vocals of this caliber. His phrasing, tone, diction, and emotional prowess is absolute genius. “Someone saw a snayayayake!!,” and how about that Michael Sweet-like scream at the end?
The following two songs “Run to You,” and “I’ve Always Wondered,” bring back big memories for me as these are resurrected from the ashes of the Faxx days and given new life. Straightforward lyrics are pronounced throughout the album, and it really is such a breath of fresh air to know where these guys are coming from and not have to play any guessing game. “Jesus, I will follow you,” doesn’t get any more real than that. “I’ve Always Wondered” evokes some progressive elements and has some very odd vocal and musical moments that make this a standout cut for sure. This was always one of my very favorite tunes from back in the day and it is great to finally have it released in this capacity. The message here is one that is nearly impossible to fathom for those of us who are believers, no doubt that there are those times that we may question our faith but to question what life would be had Christ not died for us? That is startling, to say the least.
Stayce does a fantastic job vocally channeling the spirit of original vocalist James Salters on the redone Faxx tunes but is even more convincing when it comes to capturing the essence of his late brother’s abilities. This is evidenced on the very bluesy “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” Really reminds me of “Can’t Let the Devil Win” from Trust. “Elevate” is a solid rocker and while it holds no real surprises it is not filler in the slightest. This is actually one of the heavier songs on the album. It boasts a chorus that despite its address does anything but take me down.
According to bassist Malcolm Paris, the song “Creep” may be the best song Mr. Roberts has ever written and he’s not wrong! As the demonic vocal introduction comes over the speakers and the eerie music gets underway it is the type of song that will make every hair on your body stand up and take notice. That being said, it is not necessarily done in the feel-good way that you might think. The song is a reminder that although we are protected from the enemy, he is always lurking and looking for a way back into our lives.
As the album progresses, there are some really great moments still to come, “If I Told You” is another powerful tune that keeps the momentum going, and “Lonely Bones” is a sad rocker that resonates with some truly deep-seated emotion. A bit of a lighter attitude is found with “And We All Fall Down,” (gotta dig those 80’s keys that peek through at just the right times.) “Lucid,” is another catchy gem sporting some 70’s ELO influences if I’m not mistaken.
One of my favorites found in the garden is a song that finds its place near the end of the album and has an almost Whitesnake feel to it, at least in the vocal department, maybe a bit musically as well. “Come to Me” is a very prominent song on the album IMHO. Stayce is such a great guitarist and composer. This guy has always been a shredder but knows exactly how to create just the right arrangement never sacrificing the song for the sake of his own abilities. His days with John and Dino have also paid off as the recording production here is nothing short of stellar. The album was mixed by Grammy-Award-winning Mix Engineer JR McNeely.
The last track on the album, “Love Automatic” is the perfect closer and sends us off with a great feeling of euphoria. The title says it all! When I first received the first four songs from Stayce in January, I told him then that if what I was hearing was any indication of what was to come, then the album very well could be a primary contender for album of the year, and after hearing the complete mastered version I stand by my claim. Evie’s Little Garden is now at the top of my list!