Janet Gardner & Justin James – No Strings (Album Review)

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Famously known as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Vixen, Janet Gardner has dedicated most of her life to music. A powerful vocalist, most recognize her for such Vixen hits that include “Edge of a Broken Heart” and “Cryin’,” but how many people are aware that Gardner has been etching out her own solo career for around seven years?

That is right, since 2017 she has been putting out her own material, and in 2019 officially stepped down from Vixen. An unfortunate announcement for Vixen fans, it is important to recognize that Gardner did have a nice second go-around with the band that began in 2012 and resulted in some solid touring through the years. Sadly, never resulting in a new Vixen studio album with Gardner on vocals, her return to the band should be cherished, but like anything in life, changes happen and we must move forward.

That said, those late to the party, the show is not over, because Gardner has been rather busy; releasing a self-titled debut in 2017, Your Place in the Sun in 2019, and Synergy in 2020. The last of the bunch, Synergy, would be her first under the title Gardner/James. For those unaware, this project is the unity of herself and husband, Justin James. James, a respected songwriter in his own right, has worked with a list of other artists in the past. Now working together as songwriters since Gardner’s debut, the name change is fitting since they are truly a duo. Seemingly in love romantically and musically, the couple return in 2023 with their brand-new album No Strings.

Released on June 9th through Pavement Entertainment, the new collection features twelve tracks that clearly feed off raw emotion. Thematically about broken hearts and failed relationships, the message here is rather relatable. Talking about control, or loss of control in a relationship, it ultimately relays the idea that even if we feel broken inside, we must move on from the past and find our identity once more.  

Lyrics that might not seem too abnormal for Rock-n-Roll ballads, what really makes these new songs strike hard are the structures, instrumentation, and Gardner’s heartfelt delivery. This is most potent on songs such as “I’m Living Free,” “85,” and the title-track, “No Strings.” Additionally, you can really dig deep into other cuts which includes the ear-tingling “Set Me Free,” “Hold onto You,” and “I’m Not Sorry.”

Full of killer, larger than life guitar riffs, a rich, warm sound reminiscent of some of the best ‘80s Hard Rock, and perfectly layered backing vocals that amplify the atmosphere, No Strings is one solid record. An album where you can hear the heartache in each word sung, as well as within the music, if you are a fan of Vixen and Gardner, you will love what you hear. Not to be overlooked, Cryptic Rock gives No Strings 4 out of 5 stars. 

Janet Gardner & Justin James – No Strings / Pavement Entertainment (2023)
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