Sunday, August 29, 2021

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Shine A Light On Me Brother

Robert Jon & The Wreck are not entirely what they seem.  The easy peg to hang them on may be Southern rock, but there’s more to them than that rather lazy label suggests.  This was obvious from their previous album Last Light On The Highway, and there’s further evidence when they let loose here with ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’, the title track that kicks off their new release.
Robert Jon & The Wreck - Otis Redding dance moves unlikely
Pic by Bryan Greenberg
Surging guitar chords, and some squealing slide courtesy of Henry James herald the entrance of Robert Jon Burrison’s strong, purposeful voice soaring over the top of the arrangement – as it does across the album’s ten tracks.  But then some rocking horns get cooking, and gospellated backing vocals enter the fray courtesy of Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens, and suddenly they’ve gone all Otis Redding, with barroom piano frills from Steve Maggiora.  This ain’t your common-or-garden Southern rock sound, not by any means, even if they don’t have the dance moves to go with the Memphis soul stew they whip up.
Thing is, Robert Jon & The Wreck aren’t really good ol’ boys from way down south, even if they may look like it, what with the hats and the beards.  They’re from California, albeit Orange County rather than some cool locale like Laurel Canyon, and listening to them you’ve gotta think the Eagles figure somewhere in their musical DNA, given the vocal harmony backing Robert Jon gets from all four of the other band members on a regular basis.
Whatever, what they really do best is nail you to the wall with stonking hooks.  Take ‘Ain’t No Young Love Song’, fr’instance.  It does have something of a Southern rock vibe, but delivered like an adrenaline rush, with drummer Andrew Espantman giving his kit a good spanking and more backing vox from the gals adding an extra whoosh, but all that energy is given focus by a killer chorus – a chorus so good they can bring it down for a breather and it loses nothing.
The harmony-drenched refrain on the following ‘Oh Chicago’ is irresistible too, with Burrison’s vocal well and truly airborne once again.  Okay, so the lyrics are maybe a bit trite, but I’ll forgive them that lapse towards Nashville-esque sentimentality when they add in some oomph from the horns and a tasty sax break from Jason Parfait.
They do melancholy well too, on the likes of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Brother’.  The first is a tale of ill-
Robert Jon Burrison - achieving vocal lift-off
Pic by Maurice Moonen
starred fascination with a messed-up woman, all warm piano, waves of organ, acoustic strumming and keening slide guitar.  The second tackles the subject of mental illness with feeling, insisting on the importance of fraternal love to support a troubled mind, with James’ soaring guitar solo capturing the emotional essence of the song.  ‘Anna Maria’ has a countryish bent, but the bitter lyric spares it from the self-pitying tone that infects many a Southern rock ballad, and there’s no denying another top notch chorus and an impressive a cappella interlude.
Still, I like ‘em best in upbeat mode, as on ‘Everyday’, with its funky piano and shuffling drums to the fore, and squirrelling guitar breaks as it builds and builds, frenetic guitar competing with those female voices again, all the way to a clapping, cheering finale.  ‘Movin’’ is a chunkier vehicle, with a rumbling guitar intro reinforced by acoustic guitar and gutsy, dragging drums, with Maggiora’s piano sparkling in the margins.  It probes and prods its way forward, slowly gathering itself, then cools off into the bridge before coiling itself like a spring and then crashing back into motion.
Robert Jon & The Wreck are a quality outfit, too good to confine themselves to Southern rock stylings.  The songwriting and arrangements evident on Shine A Light On Me Brother may be their trump cards, but their all-round musicianship and Burrison’s voice aren’t far behind.  So forget the labels and give them a listen.

Shine A Light On Me Brother is released on 3 September, and can be pre-ordered here.

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