Album Reviews

The perfect album for a road trip… the tracks all bear repeated listening. ”

— Alan Fitter, AmericanaUK

Existential Frontiers is the third album by White Owl Red, out March 1, 2019.  Current features include Skopemag.com (Music video of the month), thealternateroot.com, Songbones.com, thedailyripple.org. (Music video of the week)  

Current Reviews for Existential Frontiers: Rootstime.be, Jim HynesThe Winnipeg Free Press/Uptown, Writteninmusic.comAmericanaUK,

Upcoming reviews in the works for Existential Frontiers: The Alternate Root. 

Features: Songbones.com New Releases

Reviews for Naked and Falling: Divide and Conquer, The Alternate Root,  Lonestar Time, Twangri-La

Alternate Root places 'Naked and Falling at 85 of top 100 albums of 2017. 

 

 

 

Alan Fitter

March 14, 2019

Album Reviews

White Owl Red “Existential Frontiers” (Hush Mouse Records, 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 

8/10

Bobby Moore, Music Critic

Music Review - `Existential Frontiers ` by White Owl Red 

White Owl Red - Existential Frontiers

 14 March 2019 

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.” 

Bobby Moore

The Winnipeg Free Press/Uptown

ROOTS 

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

White Owl Red -- Existential Frontiers

 20 March 2019 

The Rolling Stones meet Buck Owens on the title track of White Owl Red’s third studio album. The galloping rhythms of the tune propel the tune as the singer searches urgently for a little meaning in life in wry Dylanesque vocals. J. Josef McManus’ stories offer glimpses into the ragged ways that despair and hope twist in the sometimes hollow, sometimes full chambers of our hearts. He’s joined on the album by guitarist Gawain Mathews and drummer Kyle Capistra. 

“Everything but Crying” opens with the tear-like strums of a mandolin backed by a Keith Richards-like guitar and then launches into the sly tongue-in-cheek break-up song. When the singer loses his lover, he tries “smoking grass from sunrise to sunrise,” but that only made him hungry. He tries “transcendental meditation”; he “read books about God I couldn’t understand,” and “traveled in India and Indiana.” Once he discovers crying—which he’s never brought himself to try—he realizes he “should have been crying for years/what the hell was I waiting for?” “Union Fight Song” could be a new anthem for working people; it’s a propulsive rocker that indicts the government for taking unfair advantage of folks working in factories, mills, restaurants. “We gonna show you what a red white and blue/union can do/we’re taking our country back.” The album closes with a song that sonically resembles “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” in which the singer says goodbye to his lover, recognizing they have nothing in common. Still, as he sings: “I’m wishing you well/but I’m all right.” 

Existential Frontiers captures the messiness of life, and illustrates the many ways that we’re always on the edge of life, looking into the abyss of loss or despair or love. McManus’ songs illuminate our struggles while showing us the way to embrace them, make light of them, and transcend them—or at least move in a different direction, away from the abyss. 

Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.

Thanks Peter Barbarič at Radio PRVI  Prvi​ in Slovenia for this great Review of Existential Frontiers and featuring the album on his show!   

Here's the translation (fun how google translate gives a fresh look at the english language):

Modern west-coast White Owl Red - Existential Frontiers 

This Saturday music road will again lead us across the broader American plains. The White Owl Red band will join us on it. Her driving wheel is penetrating cantorage Joseph McManus. The White Owl Red four-legged Black Powder rose on American sides on both sides of the Atlantic with the first two albums in 2014 and 2017. On March 1, her third studio album, "Existential Frontiers," was released. The music professional again flips it with superlatives. Absolutely deserved. White Owl Red has managed to capture all the distortion of the Californian west-coast from the second half of the 1960s and to put it in an updated form for half a century ahead. Her magical spatial and time-bound cross country rocket, psychedelia, as well as the garage punk and later hard core, Byrds, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane as well as Husker D, Meat Puppets and Grungea with Eagles and Dylan pins in the moment of grabbing the listener's ear and not dropping by the end of a quarter-hour long album. McManus' texts are socially conscious, angry protestant, for the second time personal and contemplative. The album "Existential Frontiers" does not lose its charge even after many listening. 

Peter Barbarich March 23, 2019 
https://radioprvi.rtvslo.si/2019/03/glasbena-cesta-2-3-1-5-81/ 

Tokratna sobotna glasbena cesta nas bo spet vodila prek širokih planjav americane. Na njej se nam bo pridružila sanfranciška zasedba White Owl Red. Njeno gonilno kolo je prodorni kantavtor Joseph McManus. Štiričlanska White Owl Red je dvignila prah na americana sceni na obeh straneh Atlantika že s prvima dvema albumoma v letih 2014 in 2017. 1. marca je izšel njen tretji studijski album z naslovom »Existential Frontiers«. Glasbena strokovna javnost ga ponovno obsipa s superlativi. Čisto zasluženo. White Owl Red je uspela zajeti vso iskrivost kalifornijskega west-coasta iz druge polovice šestdesetih let prejšnjega stoletja in ga v posodobljeni obliki prestaviti za pol stoletja naprej. Njen čarobni prostorski in časovno nezamejeni preplet country rocka, psihedelije pa tudi garažnega punka in poznejšega hard corea, Byrdsov, Grateful Deadov, Jefferson Airplane pa tudi Husker D, Meat Puppets in grungea s ščepci Eaglesov in Dylana v trenutku zagrabi poslušalčeva ušesa in jih ne spusti do konca tričetrt ure dolgega albuma. McManusova besedila so na trenutke družbeno osveščena, jezno protestniška, drugič osebna in razmišljujoča. Album »Existential Frontiers« tudi po večih poslušanjih ne izgubi svojega naboja.

#americana #americanamusic #altcountry #worldwide #Slovania #guitars #Distortion #1960s #psycedelia #garage #punk #garagepunk #hardcore #Byrds #GratefulDead #JeffersonAirplane #HuskerDu #MeatPuppets #Grunge #Eagles #theEagles  #Dylan #BobDylan #SociallyConscious #Protest #SocialJustice #protestsong #contemplative #albumreview #gratitude 

Music Review - `Existential Frontiers` by White Owl Red (Jim Hynes) 

White Owl Red -  Existential Frontiers 

1 March 2019 

Existential Frontiers is the third studio album by White Owl Red, a San Francisco-based alt-country band fronted by singer/songwriter J. Josef McManus. His debut record, 2014’s American Ash landed on the Americana Music Association Charts (AMA) and held a spot there for fourteen weeks. His second album, 2017’s Naked and Falling Charted on the AMA top 100, FAR Chart top 10 and ranked in the top 100 albums of 2017 by Alternate Root. This is clearly a band on the rise and Existential Frontierswill likely raise their trajectory. 

Joining McManus are drummer Kyle Caprista (Chuck Prophet, Megan Slankard) and guitarist Gawain Mathews (Mickey Hart, Ben Lee). McManus has one of those classic twang voices with long drawn out words like Hayes Carll or Ray Wylie Hubbard. At times you’d swear he was from Texas, not San Francisco. Yet, there’s a West Coast feel to the music too, hearkening back at times to classic country rock sounds of the Byrds and Burritos. Some hear elements of the Dead but perhaps the best comparison is the San Francisco band from the ‘90s, American Music Club. Like that band, White Owl Red uses small dashes of psychedelia, as if to remind us that they are inherently San Francisco at heart. 

The opening title track, already released as a single and YouTube video, is a swinging country rocker. It’s an arousing beginning that quickly yields to the mid-tempo, brooding “Breaking Away.” McManus displays his true gift for melody in “Everything But Crying” and the lilting “Good Morning Moonshine.” The tongue-in-cheek “I’m a Saint” reveals a punk country style that segues to the acoustic folk-like “Love Her Still.” 

“More, More, More” is a haunting up-tempo tune, propelled by McManus’s drawn-out phrasing and polyrhythms from Caprista. Again, in keeping with the pattern, the tempo slows for the languorous, spacey “See Through Me” and picks up only slightly for the folk-like “Set Me Free” that has a nice dobro break from Mathews. This sets us up for perhaps the strongest track, the churning rock anthem “Union Fight Song.” McManus speaks for the government workers summoning Joe Hill and John Henry as he sings “We’re gonna show you with a red, white and blue union can do.” 

Piano chords introduce the brooding “Hand-Me-Down Girl” that leads into the bouncy, singalong “Star-crossed Lover.” “Take a Good Look” is another rapid tempo twangy tune bordering on punk country before closing with the harmonica-infused Dylanesque “Wishing You Well.” 

Despite the modest success of their first two albums, White Owl Red remains lightly under the radar. McManus and his band are as good as any on today’s Americana scene. There are several tunes that are ideal for airplay here so perhaps this will rightly elevate their status. McManus is a better songwriter than most. With the talents of his bandmates, they deliver a nice mix of tunes shifting between alt-country to folk to some terrific rocking moments. 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

Rootstime.be

 

‘White Owl Red’ is het alter-ego van de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter Josef McManus uit San Francisco. In 2013 kwam hij voor het eerst op de proppen met het debuutalbum “American Ash” dat in 2017 werd opgevolgd door een tweede plaat die “Naked And Falling” als titel heeft gekregen en waarvan we nu een derde cd “Existential Frontiers” mochten verwelkomen. De muziek die ‘White Owl Red’ op deze albums heeft verzameld kan als Americana, alt.Country en indie folk gecatalogeerd worden. 

AMERICAN ASH - 2014 

Deze debuutplaat van ‘White Owl Red’ laat ons kennismaken met de songschrijverscapaciteiten van Josef McManus die van meetafaan een duidelijke keuze had gemaakt om zich op het pad van de betere alt.countrymuziek te begeven. De dertien nummers op dit album zijn stuk voor stuk eigen composities van deze muzikant en er werd erg veel aandacht besteed aan de orkestratie van de liedjes die een vol geluid en knappe melodietjes heeft opgeleverd. 

Dat merken we al meteen bij de leuke opener “You Could Be My Baby For A While”. “Bombed All To Hell” en “ Rhada Krishna Blues” zijn daarna countryrockers met een alom aanwezige banjo in de begeleiding. Eén van de mooiste liedjes op deze cd is het op de video te beluisteren “If I Was An Angel”, een song die om voor ons onbegrijpelijke redenen nadien nooit werd gecoverd door andere countrysterren. 

Wat verder op deze plaat is het moeilijk om de voetjes stil te laten staan op het swingende “Sweet Jacqueline”, “Let Me Be” en slotsong “Wild And Free", maar onze voorkeur blijft toch uitgaan naar de ballads die ‘White Owl Red’ op deze debuutplaat brengt. Dan denken we vooral aan het al eerder vermelde “If I Was An Angel” en het intimistische “Residue” dat ons vlekkeloos naar het einde van deze uitstekende eerste cd voert. 

NAKED AND FALLING - 2017 

Het was daarna drie jaartjes wachten voor een opvolger op “American Ash’, maar dat lange wachten loonde de moeite, want Josef McManus had hard gewerkt aan het componeren en verfijnen van tien nieuwe liedjes voor dit tweede album “Naked And Falling”. Voor deze songs heeft hij wat meer soul in de liedjes gebracht dan bij zijn voornamelijk op pure countrymuziek geënte debuutplaat. 

Sommige muziekfans zullen deze plaat misschien wel willen vergelijken met het Americana-werk van artiesten als Hank Williams Jr. of iemand als Chris Isaak, vooral dan om het bijhorende gitaargeluid en de melancholische zangpartijen bij enkele nummers zoals openingstrack “Pills And Paper” en het daaropvolgende “Hurts Like Hell”. 

“Falls Like The Rain” lijkt dan weer geweldig hard op een song van ‘The Triffids’, voornamelijk door de gelijkenis van Josef McManus’ stem op die van ‘Triffids’-frontman David McComb in dit nummer. Onze persoonlijke voorkeur gaat toch uit naar dit tweede album van ‘White Owl Red’ waarop we geen enkel zwakker nummer tussen de tien tracks kunnen bespeuren. Want ook “In Ruin”, “Falling Of The World” (zie video) en vooral “The Cracks Keep Getting Bigger” en slotsong “Nothing” (zijn persoonlijke “Wicked Game”-lookalikes van Chris Isaak) blijven ons van begin tot einde bekoren. 

Of het om een privé-afrekening gaat of niet weten we niet echt, maar na het horen van de song “Alcoholic Stepmom” kunnen we ons toch voorstellen dat de mama van zijn vrouw niet echt ‘happy’ zal zijn met de songtekst van dit overigens erg mooie nummer. Bij de song “Your Skin On My Skin” kunnen we ons dan weer moeiteloos een beeld vormen van twee geliefden die zich volledig verstrengeld aan elkaar overgeven. Het tweede album “Naked And Falling” van ‘White Owl Red’ zorgt ongetwijfeld voor een bevestiging van het grote talent van deze muzikant. 

EXISTENTIAL FRONTIERS - 2019 

Josef McManus heeft zijn liedjes door de jaren heen alsmaar meer geslepen en gepolierd en dat heeft nu geleid tot de release van een derde studioplaat. “Existential Frontiers” is een verzameling van veertien nieuwe eigen composities waarbij opnieuw de hierboven vernoemde muziekgenres aan bod zijn gekomen. 

Deze nummers zijn stuk voor stuk knap georkestreerd en zorgen voor een frisse en gepaste afwisseling tussen de muziekstijlen op het album. Het hoeft niet echt te verwonderen dat deze muzikant opkijkt naar collega-artiesten als Bob Dylan en Neil Young, iets wat vooral te horen is bij songs als “Breaking Away”, “Everything But Crying”, “Love Her Still” en onze favoriete songs “See Through Me” en “Wishing You Well”. In deze twee liedjes lijkt zijn stem volgens onze bescheiden mening een beetje op die van de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman. 

Daarnaast zijn de liefdesliedjes “Set Free” en pianoballad “Hand-Me-Down Girl” ook zeer genietbaar werk van dit album. Josef McManus aka ‘White Owl Red’ brengt eveneens enkele vlot in het gehoor liggende countryrocksongs met “Good Morning Sunshine” en “Star-Crossed Lover”, naast pure dansbare rock’n’roll in “I’m A Saint”, “Union Fight Song” en “Take A Good Look”. 

“Existential Frontiers” is een verdienstelijke derde plaat geworden voor ‘White Owl Red’, met catchy en sterk gedifferentieerde liedjes die ervoor zorgen dat er nergens een moment van verveling of herhaling lijkt op te duiken bij de beluistering van dit alweer heel knappe album. 

(valsam)

 

Translated from Dutch to English (Google Translate):

"White Owl Red" is the alter-ego of the American singer-songwriter Josef McManus from San Francisco. In 2013 he came up with the debut album "American Ash" for the first time, followed in 2017 by a second album entitled "Naked And Falling" and of which we now welcome a third CD "Existential Frontiers". The music "White Owl Red" has collected on these albums can be categorized as Americana, alt.Country and indie folk.

AMERICAN ASH - 2014

This debut album of "White Owl Red" introduces us to the songwriting capacities of Josef McManus, who had made a clear choice from the outset to embark on the path of better alt.country music. The thirteen songs on this album are all own compositions of this musician and a lot of attention was paid to the orchestration of the songs that has produced a full sound and beautiful melodies.

We notice that immediately with the fun opener “You Could Be My Baby For A While”. "Bombed All To Hell" and "Rhada Krishna Blues" are then country rockers with an ever-present banjo in the accompaniment. One of the most beautiful songs on this CD is the video "If I Was An Angel", a song that for incomprehensible reasons was never covered by other country stars afterwards.

A little further on this album it is difficult to let the feet stand still on the swinging “Sweet Jacqueline”, “Let Me Be” and slot song “Wild And Free”, but our preference is still for the ballads that 'White Owl Red "on this debut album. We are thinking in particular of the aforementioned" If I Was An Angel "and the intimate" Residue "that takes us flawlessly to the end of this excellent first CD.

 NAKED AND FALLING - 2017

It was then three years waiting for a successor to "American Ash", but that long wait was worth it, because Josef McManus had worked hard to compose and refine ten new songs for this second album "Naked And Falling". For these songs he has brought more soul into the songs than on his debut album, which is mainly based on pure country music.

Some music fans may want to compare this record with the Americana work of artists such as Hank Williams Jr. or someone like Chris Isaak, especially for the accompanying guitar sound and the melancholic vocal parts for some songs such as opening track "Pills And Paper" and the subsequent "Hurts Like Hell".

"Falls Like The Rain" on the other hand looks very hard on a song from "The Triffids", mainly due to the similarity of Josef McManus' voice to that of "Triffids" front man David McComb in this song. Our personal preference goes out to this second album of "White Owl Red" on which we cannot detect a weaker number between the ten tracks. Because "In Ruin", "Falling Of The World" (see video) and especially "The Cracks Keep Getting Bigger" and slot song "Nothing" (his personal "Wicked Game" lookalikes by Chris Isaak) remain us from start to finish charm.

Whether it is a private statement or not, we do not really know, but after hearing the song "Alcoholic Stepmom" we can still imagine that his wife's mother will not be really happy with the lyrics of this incidentally very nice song. With the song "Your Skin On My Skin" we can effortlessly form a picture of two lovers who surrender themselves completely entangled. The second album "Naked And Falling" by "White Owl Red" undoubtedly confirms the great talent of this musician.

EXISTENTIAL FRONTIERS - 2019 

Josef McManus has sharpened and polished his songs more and more over the years and that has now led to the release of a third studio album. "Existential Frontiers" is a collection of fourteen new own compositions in which the aforementioned music genres have been discussed again. 

These songs are all beautifully orchestrated and provide a fresh and appropriate change between the music styles on the album. It is hardly surprising that this musician looks up to fellow artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young, something that can be heard especially with songs such as "Breaking Away", "Everything But Crying", "Love Her Still" and our favorite songs "See Through Me" and "Wishing You Well". In these two songs, according to our humble opinion, his voice is a bit like that of the American singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman. 

In addition, the love songs "Set Free" and piano ballad "Hand-Me-Down Girl" are also very enjoyable work from this album. Josef McManus aka "White Owl Red" also brings some well-received country rock songs with "Good Morning Sunshine" and "Star-Crossed Lover", in addition to pure danceable rock'n'roll in "I'm A Saint", "Union Fight Song "and" Take A Good Look ". 

"Existential Frontiers" has become a creditable third album for "White Owl Red", with catchy and highly differentiated songs that ensure that nowhere a moment of boredom or repetition seems to pop up when listening to this once again very handsome album. 

(valsam)

 

Music Review - `Existential Frontiers` by White Owl Red

By Lee Zimmerman

14 March 2019 

Riding the crest of acclaim accorded his last two albums Naked and Falling and Americana Ash, White Owl Red -- the nom de plume of San Francisco singer/songwriter J. Josef McManus -- continues to share his Dylan-esque drawl and penchant for melodic Americana on Existential Frontiers, yet another reason to proclaim the fact he may well be the artist worth watching in the coming months. Superb songs are generally the only evidence needed, and White Owl Red have plenty to offer. However, McManus’ sensitive yet assured delivery also seals the deal every time out. 

While McManus generally offers the impression that he’s a downtrodden troubadour, he’s not confined to those quarters. Indeed, the majority of the 14 tracks in the setlist suggest he’s not one to shed any tears in his beer. “I’ve done everything but cryin’,” he sings on the song of the same name while sharing his continuing quest for greater awareness. He follows it with the sprightly “Good Morning Sunshine,” offering every indication that he well intends to catch any patches of light that pierce the dark clouds of uncertainty. It’s a rare move given that most artists of his ilk are only able to perceive problems and not seek out hope in the happenstance. McManus not only demonstrates his willingness to keep on an upper keel but also poke a bit of fun at himself in the process, as the rowdy “I’m A Saint” suggests. 

Mostly though, Existential Frontiers is an astute example of how to parlay shifting emotions into melodic and mesmerizing examples of modern musical dexterity, deftly executed and confidently conveyed. Darker designs, expressed in the slow tumble of “More More More” fit compatibly alongside the rollicking refrains of the title track and the pluck and amble of the driving and determined “Set Free.” For every mournful lament like “Love Her Still” or “See Through Me” there’s also uplifting additives, as perceived through the wistful ramble  of “Starcross Lover,” the sunnier sentiments of “Wishing You Well” or the down-home delivery of “Take a Good Luck.” Mood and melody flow in sync, leaving a well-trod trail of sentiment in their wake. 

Ultimately, Existential Frontiers connects far better than its title might suggest. Suffice it to say we’d all do well to share this singular experience. 

Lee Zimmerman