Afterglow is the fourth White Owl Red album, Release date: February 26, 2020
Current Reviews for Afterglow:
Goldmine Magazine (print edition), Rootstime.be (Belgium),
Existential Frontiers is the third album by White Owl Red, Released March 1, 2019.
Current Reviews for Existential Frontiers:
AmericanaUK, The Alternate Root Magazine, Lonesome Highway (Ireland), Skope Magazine, Music Connection, Stomp and Stammer (Bobby Moore), The Winnipeg Free Press/Uptown, Keys and Chords, Tattoo.com, Review Fix, The Ark of Music, Indie Pulse Music, Vents Magazine, Shock Ya, Henry Carrigan, Jr., PRVI Radio Slovakia, Jim Hynes, Tinnitist, Rootstime.be, Lee Zimmerman, Writteninmusic.com, Harry Kaplan , Indie Source, Music Existence, Stereo Stickman, Left Bank, Review Fix - Interview, Razorfish Reviews, GasHouseRadio.com, musikbloggen67, David Masciotra, FAETA Magazine, LoneStar Time, AltCountry Netherlands Magazine, PopGeni Music Blog (Sweden),
Album Review: White Owl Red - Afterglow
March Print Issue 2020 (taken from larger article)
White Owl Red bears a similarly strange handle, but they too produce a sound that’s constantly pleasing and immediately affecting. The San Francisco-based band — which currently consists of singer/songwriter Josef McManus, drummer Kyle Caprista, guitarist Gawain Mathews, and backing singing Leah Tysee —can boast an unfailingly solid and stoic commitment to their craft, as their new album Afterglow so decidedly demonstrates.. Ever articulate, the songs bear several classic references, from Johnny Cash (“I Walk the Line (For You))” to the plight of American workers and the Red Scare of the 1950s (“Working Class Heroes”). It’s not that they’re embroiled in overly somber sentiments; they’re not. But for all its melodic graces, this is a decidedly solid effort, and one worthy of wide recognition. It’s difficult to classify — Americana may be the most apt description — but given the strength of these songs, any typecasting seems irrelevant anyway. Indeed, Afterglow shines bright.
March 14, 2019
There are certain albums that cry out to be the soundtrack to a long road trip and White Owl Red’s third album ‘Existential Frontiers’ is one of those, whether you’re driving from Nashville to Memphis or Norwich to Middlesbrough. The album gets off to an excellent start with the Dylanesque title song, with its ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ feel, set to a chugalug, loping rhythm. Other highlights are the rocky ‘I’m A Saint’ with its distorted vocals and guitars, ‘More More More’ which builds slowly and incorporates the superb, soulful vocals of Leah Tysse towards the end of the song.
The most interesting track on the album is ‘Union Fight Song’ which wouldn’t sound out of place in the Neil Young angry/protest songbook. Lyrics such as “Don’t gotta worry ‘bout the taxes, ain’t got none to pay, your corporation’s got special exemptions, while our jobs just up and went away” is an example of what the song is all about. Having started with a Dylan like song, the album ends with another one but this time from an earlier incarnation of the man from Hibbing. ‘Wishing You Well’ has distant echoes of ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ with its finger-picked intro, harmonica and a very similar rhythm to the Bobster’s 1962 song.
There are sixteen tracks altogether and whilst one or two fall a bit short of the high standard set by the rest of the album, they all bear repeated listening. White Owl Red is basically the vehicle for the songs of Josef McManus. He also sings and plays guitar and on the album, he’s aided and abetted by Kyle Caprista on drums and Gawain Mathews on guitars with Ben Isaacs guesting on djembe (a rope-tuned West African drum) on ‘Set Free’. The album has an analogue, old fashioned, valve-amp lo-fi feel which fits perfectly with McManus’s laid-back, effortless vocals. The band are San Francisco based and the whole album has a west coast vibe to it and would probably have sounded a lot different if it had been recorded on the east coast or somewhere like Nashville.
McManus is a bit of a vocal chameleon. As well as the already mentioned Dylanesque vocals, there are resonances on various tracks of Steve Earle, David Byrne, Howe Gelb and Willie Nile amongst others. This isn’t a criticism – it just shows how McManus can mould his voice to a song be it a jaunty, country song like ‘Everything But The Crying’ to the creamy smooth vocal on the gentle ballad ‘Breaking Away’.
So, fill ‘er up, set the Satnav, put ‘Existential Frontiers’ on your sound-system, crank it up and you’re good to go.
The perfect album for a road trip
white owl red existential frontiers
The Alternate Root Magazine 5/2/2019
White Owl Red (from the album Existential Frontiers available on Hush Mouse Records)
White Owl Red watch feathers fly when the band chicken scratch guitar notes and let the music takes flight on their recent release, Existential Frontiers. The album opens with the title track, the story of “Existential Frontiers” spilling out in a jumble of fairy tale characters and street denizens on a rock’n’roll stream of consciousness. Country Blues slaps out a personal resume and a goodbye note when White Owl Red hop on a honky tonk beat for “Take a Good Luck” as Existential Frontiers stays close to home with the front porch toast in “Good Morning Moonshine” as it feels the amped-up heartbeat of “Love Her Still” and make a mantra of “More More More” over a desert psychedelia trance beat.
Lyrics for the songs come from the pen of White Owl Red mainstay, Josef McManus, his words taking the path of poetry in the tales, expressed with a literary tone as he sketches a picture of “Hand-Me-Down Girl” with a well-defined stage setting and offers a DIY-guide for destruction as he attempts methods of coping in “Everything But Crying”. Indecision holds the characters in “Wishing You Well” in the same rolling rhythm as the beat while White Owl Red light the torches of dissent with the spark from electric guitars in “Union Fight Song”. White Owl Red make a one-minute elevator pitch as “I’m a Saint” packs its message into a little over sixty seconds while Existential Frontiers sets a Country ramble under the pleas of “Star-Crossed Lover”.
White Owl Red Existential Frontiers Hush Mouse
February 8, 2020
Singer/songwriter Josef McManus is the creative source behind this performance vehicle. The band also includes Kyle Caprista (drums), Gawain Mathews (guitars) and Leah Tysee (backing vocals). In the absence of any information regarding this release; who wrote what, who played which instruments and where the project was recorded, I must assume that McManus is the sole writer across the 14 tracks included here. He may well have also self-produced the whole project and these numbers fall very firmly into an Americana sound with a wave at Folk/Roots sensitivities along the way. Album number three, since his 2014 debut and there is already a fourth release due to be with us in Spring 2020.
The songs are interesting, with a variety that evades a defining, signature sound. The musicians serve the songs well and the understated playing on Good Morning Moonshine, See Through Me, Set Free and Love Her Still reflects the ease with which the melodies unfurl and linger. Starcrossed Lover and Everything But Crying are more commercial radio-friendly songs, while the Country sound of closing track, Wishing You Well, with harmonica and simple melody, compliments the previous song, Take A Good Look, - a fun take on the genre with steel guitar and shuffling rhythm. The overall production is sharp and there is lots of separation in the mix to highlight the different instruments.
Union Fight Song is a protest against Corporate greed and Big Business myopia with a promise that the common man will rise up to retaliate. I’m A Saint is a race to the end of the track in a Cow-Punk sprint, while the title track muses on the reality that nobody really knows what we are doing here and how we all have to figure out our purpose on our own. Fourteen tracks and just shy of forty-four minutes to find some hidden gems that reward the listener – there is much to enjoy here.
Review by Paul McGee
NEW MUSIC CRITIQUE: WHITE OWL RED, AUGUST 1, 2019
ALBUM: EXISTENTIAL FRONTIERS
We like how the lead vocals of artist Josef McManus are mixed high and prominent in these recordings. What becomes clear is that he projects real character, has a point of view and isn’t coy about presenting it. “World is changing too fast” he sings on “Existential Frontiers,” which is powered by a driving country-rock beat and tasty slide guitar and harmonica. Equally up-tempo but more angry is “Union Fight Song” whose message is driven home with snarling electric guitar underscored by nice banjo. McManus faces a soured relationship with “We ain’t losing nothing that’s already gone bad.” While his tunes are not drop-dead catchy, there’s an authentic edge to this performer that makes a strong impression.
OVERALL ALBUM: 7.8
White Owl Red mixes a rustic form of Americana with the shaggy dog style of Modest Mouse’s early honest output on “Existential Frontiers”. Thoughtful lyricism goes for self-reflection while White Owl Red takes their take. Instrumentally rich the entirety of the album has a lived-in, loved quality to it. From banjo to guitar with a folksy celebratory demeanor the songs have a gorgeous sweeping style to them. A hard-earned optimism peeks out of most of the songs for the vocals have warm, inviting quality to them.
Setting the tone, the title track “Existential Frontiers” goes for wide open spaces and a meditative presence. By opening the album with such swagger White Owl Red exude a sense of confidence. Akin to a lullaby the tenderness of “Breaking Away” possesses such heart. “I’m a Saint” recalls Beck’s early anti-folk work, specifically “One Foot In The Grave” playfulness. Things are stripped down for a feeling of pure intimacy on “Love Her Still”. Like a long-lost dream, “See through Me” opts for a highly romantic quality. The rhythm goes for broke on the poignant take of “Union Fight Song”, an anthem for the little guy. Just the right western twang rolls through on the peaceful “Star-Crossed Lover”. Perfectly bringing it to a close is the bluesy quality of “Wishing you well” which is full of pure unfiltered friendship.
Done with the greatest level of care and compassion, White Owl Red delves into a colorful realm that bursts with such vibrant stories on the soothing “Existential Frontiers”.
White Owl Red – Existential Frontiers
San Francisco-based singer-songwriter J. Josef McManus and friends soar as White Owl Red on the McManus-led project’s new album, Existential Frontiers. As its title teases, the album tackles deep questions with music inspired by the Wild West mythos.
The title track sets the pace for McManus and his supporting cast: drummer Kyle Caprista (Chuck Prophet, Megan Slankard) and guitarist Gawain Mathews (Mickey Hart, Ben Lee). It’s a galloping cowpunk number that concedes there’s no Lone Ranger coming through those swinging saloon doors to solve contemporary, grown-up problems. That theme exemplifies a postmodern attitude that doesn’t toss out the Western music baby with the dated cowboy trope bathwater.
Other brainy nods to punked-up country music include the politically-aware “Union Fight Song” and the hard-driving, clever “I’m a Saint.” The latter’s lyrical gems include “I like coffee, and alcohol/ Everyone knows the dead one’s Paul” – a fun nod to one of pop music’s contrived yet intriguing conspiracies.
It’s not just a cowpunk revival, with other standout tracks including the mandolin-driven rocker “Everything But Crying” and the honky-tonk throwback “Take a Good Look.” In each case, the band blends McManus’ talent as a lyricist with disparate sounds from the folk and country playbook.
While the deadheads-who-dig-punk vibe heard on most songs flaunts the trio’s creativity, the best showcases of McManus as a lyricist and singer bring a more traditional folk feel. This can be on such quaint, acoustic numbers as “Breaking Away,” “Good Morning Moonshine” and “Love Her Still.”
White Owl Red
The Winnipeg Free Press/Uptown
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
Stream these: Everything But Crying; Hand-Me-Down Girl
— Jeff Monk