White Owl Red
Existential Frontiers (Hush Mouse Records)
This year continues at a frenzied pace of new and exciting voices in the roots/Americana field, and the third album by San Francisco-based J. Josef McManus, a.k.a. White Owl Red, the delightful Existential Frontiers, should have a few new ears bending its way.
McManus is a wordsmith and the recording has his vocals front and centre to the point that the listener can truly enjoy his sweet delivery and ability to craft memorable language that sticks in your mind. Breaking Away has a Dylanesque bob and weave coursing through its waltz-time flavour. "There’s three bricks missing at the entry/It’s been that way several years/Watch your step if you should come by/You could trip on that trail of tears..." paints the sort of picture you can keep coming back to again and again.
There is an absolute honesty of sentiment in the quieter tracks, like the moonlit angst in See Through Me, and the swirling sadness that envelops Hand-Me-Down Girl. McManus shoots off in a couple of different directions and lets his cow-punk persona rock free in the short sharp shocker I’m A Saint and the fist-raised virtue of Union Fight Song. There is no lack of twang-fulness here, either, and for those that need to stomp on the hardwood floor, Take A Good Look and the title track raise some serious dust with their deft use of dobro and mandolin in the mix.
There are a few songs of morning-after regret (Good Morning Moonshine, Everything But Crying), which include foggy-notion realizations like "I tried drowning the memory in tequila/Cause whiskey couldn’t handle the chore/Tried smokin’ grass from sunrise to sunrise/It just made me hungry, lazy and high..."
★★★★ out of five — Jeff Monk (Winnipeg Free Press)
Stream these: Everything But Crying; Hand-Me-Down Girl