Thursday, February 16, 2023

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 13 February 2023

Are you ready to rock?  You’d damn well better be, if you’re going to see Robert Jon & The Wreck.
The Californian five-piece assemble on the stage, count themselves in, and BLAM!  Right from the off these guys make a big, big sound.  And they also make it look very easy, as befits a bunch of workaholics honed by countless gigs every year.
Robert Jon Burrison gets a bit worked up
Take a song like ‘Do You Remember’.  Crunching into life with slamming chords, it goes on to harness sparkling, Allmans-like guitar harmonies, clobbering drums, spot on vocal harmonies, and some blazing lead guitar.  Oh yeah, and it has a cracking, Seger-like tune too.  This is not an isolated example.  This is not an accident.  These guys know how to write a barnburner, and they knock ‘em out with frightening regularity.
‘Waiting For Your Man’ opens up with a kit-thrashing into from drummer Andrew Espantman, and brackets gut-wrenching chords and a Morse Code riff around another solid hook.  Late in the set they crack open ‘Oh Miss Carolina’, and if the fact the audience waste no time belting out its anthemic chorus indicates that it’s a real earworm of a song, I’m here tell you they have even stronger songs that don’t even make the set list tonight.  But ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’ does, on which all and sundry have a rock’n’rollin’ blast right through to its drum-hammering ending.
But it’s not all wham-bam-thank-you-mam melodic rockers.  They get funky on ‘High Time’, with lead guitarist Henry James finding a new guitar tone to match the squelchy keys solo from newbie Jake Abernathie.  And ‘Who Can You Love’ is a cooler, country-ish affair, with James pulling another style of solo out of the hat.
Even more to the point, their mastery of dynamics means that they can grab your attention and keep it when they stretch out on songs like the bluesy epic ‘Rescue Train’, which brings together a towering vocal from Robert Jon Burrison and a dizzying slide solo from James before they take things right down for an organ solo from Abernathie.  They’re smiling all round, in readiness for
Henry James and Warren Murrel get the lead out
the guitars of Burrison and James to plough back in, and for the latter to deliver an eyeballs-out solo.  ‘When I Die’ is slower, with lots of romantic, shimmering piano from Abernathie, and James wrapping his spidery fingers around a spidery solo.
But it’s at the end of the night that they really pull out all the stops, with ‘Cold Night’.  There are more of those vocal harmonies, more of those guitar harmonies, and then James goes nuts on guitar, fingers dancing feverishly on the neck as the band ramp it up behind him.  He hands over to Abernathie for a barroom piano segment, and then the two of them get into a guitar and piano call-and-response jam, before all concerned dive into a final headlong slalom down the rock’n’roll mountainside, with Burrison, James and gangly, ever-grinning bassist Warren Murrel gathered together and rocking out centre stage.
And that might seem to be that.  But no.  With the crowd baying for more, the Wreck re-emerge, and with rippling guitar, mellow organ and hushed vocals they embark on – Hallelujah! - the stunning ‘Last Light On The Highway’.  Big chords, a big motif, and sparkling piano combine on this tour de force, a dramatic affair on which they reach their absolute peak.
Robert Jon Burrison’s name may be out front, and wiry little dude Henry James in his 1981 Blue Öyster Cult t-shirt (the guy has excellent taste) may be a Premier League guitar wrangler, but the Wreck are yer gen-yoo-wine, more than the sum of their parts rock’n’roll band.  Miss ‘em at your peril!
In case you’ve missed them, check out the Blues Enthused reviews of the Wreck’s albums Last Light On The Highway, Shine A Light On Me Brother, and Wreckage Vol.2.

And you can read a 'Gimme 5' feature with Robert Jon Burrison, selecting songs that have crossed his radar, key influences, and the people he'd love to lunch with, here.

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