Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Red Moon Rising

When they’re good they’re very good, and when they’re not so good - yeah, they’re still pretty good.
It’s a given that the Wreck are a songwriting gang of the first order.  They crank out good tunes, hooks and arrangements with remarkable regularity.  Some of this output naturally leans towards the Southern rock style with which they generally get pegged.  But what makes Robert Jon Burrison and co stand out for me is their ability to break out of that territory and do the business in different ways.
That range is alive and well in the stretch of songs here that starts with ‘Ballad Of A Broken Hearted Man’, and eases through ‘Red Moon Rising’ to ‘Dragging Me Down’.  ‘Ballad . . .’ is, to be sure, a ballad, and one with country-ish tinges to its melody and steely, spiralling acoustic picking.  But it’s evocative enough to take on an epic, mesmeric quality, with Burrison’s convincing story-telling augmented by big guitar chords, typically strong harmonies, and some
Robert Jon & The Wreck - a little Southern comfort goes a long way
Pic by Allison Morgan

slithering slide guitar from Henry James Schneekluth.  Then with the title track they take a sharp turn into cool funkiness, Andrew Espantman’s laid back drums setting the grooving course for a clever arrangement featuring spikes of guitar, surging organ, and chantalong segments.  Then ‘Dragging Me Down’ conjures an intriguingly dark and stormy vibe out of twisting and turning riffs and Burrison’s angst-tinged vocal, leading to a barbed-wire solo from Schneekluth, and a downshift into a section with cool keys from Jake Abernathie.
The second half of the album finds the Wreckers taking their foot off the gas in various styles, as the accompaniment to some philosophical lyrics, gradually shifting down the gears from the sunny Southern rock vibe of ‘Down No More’ to the relaxed honky tonk of ‘Help Yourself’, and then the low key and intimate ‘Worried Mind’.  ‘Down No More’ comes with acoustic strumming, a good hook, and some twirling guitar and toots of organ to go with the Burrison’s assertion that “I’ve been down, I ain’t down no more”.  It’s lightweight, but a useful contrast to some of the earlier songs.  ‘Help Yourself’ is an easygoing take on the homespun philosophy that “You gotta help, help, help yourself (woah-oh)”, and ends up going round in circles a bit towards the end. But ‘Worried Mind’ is more interesting in its downbeat rootsiness, Burrison’s quiet vocal set against acoustic guitars and swirls of accordion, and eventually a weeping slide solo from Schneekluth.
‘Give Love’, the closing track on the vinyl album, tops off this strand of songs with tinkling, meandering piano commentary and Warren Murrel’s brooding, deep-down bass underpinning Robert Jon’s characterful, thoughtful vocal.  It’s a well put together song, putting across the notion that “We could all use a little more love in the world” with conviction, garlanded with some fluttering guitar embroidery and in due course a sparkling, suspenseful guitar solo.  And then they add some distinctly Allmans-like guitar harmonies which – and I dare say I’m in the minority on this – are a tired old trope that they really don’t need to indulge.  (The fact that they repeat the trick on ‘Hate To See You Go’, one of two CD bonus tracks, underlines the sense of unnecessary Southern rock cliché.)
I like the Wreck better when they elbow those Southern rockisms and just rock’n’roll, and the headshaking opener ‘Stone Cold Killer’ delivers those goods, with its jab-and-move riff, window-rattling bass and singalong chorus, not to mention its scrabbling, screeching slide solo.  But it’s a bit short-sighted to follow that tale of a badass woman with the grinding stomp of ‘Trouble’, about another pretty-but-poisonous female who is “Trouble, from her head to her feet”.  Personally I’d have promoted the judderingly urgent bonus track ‘Rager’ to the top end of the album.  A driving, gritty rocker with propulsive drums from Espantman, it features an imaginative, edgy solo from Schneekluth, and an accelerating finish of Blackmore’n’Lord like guitar/organ harmonising.  Now we’re talking!
So yeah, Robert Jon & The Wreck fall a little short of their best here and there on Red Moon Rising. But hey, it’s still another strong album from one of the best rock’n’roll outfits around. So go get it for the good stuff.
Red Moon Rising is released by Journeyman Records on 28 June, and can be ordered here.

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