“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, Released March 1, 2019.
Current Reviews for Existential Frontiers:
The Alternate Root Magazine,
Stomp and Stammer (Bobby Moore),
The Winnipeg Free Press/Uptown,
Keys and Chords,
The Ark of Music
Indie Pulse Music
Henry Carrigan, Jr.
PRVI Radio Slovakia
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 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
(Transcribed from Dutch to English via Google translate)
The third album from this San Francisco band was released a few weeks ago. Great inspirer, writer and composer, J. Josef McManus strings fourteen strong songs on his americana boots. His title song "Existential Frontiers" runs like a fast train towards success, richly furnished. Every song has its own story, its own dynamics. Bluegrass in "Goodmorning Moonshine, (punk) rock in" I 'm A Saint ", singer song in Love Her Still. Be sure to listen to "Breaking Away": sung as Mark Kozelek (Sun Kill Moon), played as Eddy Vadder. "More More More" exceeds all expectations: contemporary americana with a compelling backing vocal to the end. Wow! Next surprise comes from "See Through Me": an emotional ballad with organ and slide. Josef McManus equals Tom Rapp, even Bob Dylan, in the slow moments. And in the up-tempo songs he is more powerful than Jack Daniels. May of me already be included in The Hall Of Fame. Narrative alt-country with a West Coast touch .... stunningly beautiful anthology.
Josef McManus, alias White Owl Red, takes you by the balls: so diverse, so emotional, so melodic….so honest!
Enkele weken geleden verscheen het derde album van deze band uit San Francisco. Grote bezieler, schrijver en componist, J. Josef McManus rijgt veertien sterke songs aan zijn americana boots. Zijn titelsong ‘Existential Frontiers’ draaft als een sneltrein richting succes, rijkelijk gestoffeerd. Elke song kent een eigen verhaal, een eigen dynamiek. Bluegrass in ‘Goodmorning Moonshine, (punk)rock in ‘I’m A Saint’, singersong in Love Her Still. Luister zeker eens naar ‘Breaking Away’: gezongen als Mark Kozelek (Sun Kill Moon), gespeeld als Eddy Vadder. ‘More More More’ overstijgt alle verwachtingen: hedendaagse americana met een meeslepende backing vocal naar het einde. Wow! Volgende verrassing komt van ‘See Through Me’: een emotionele ballad met orgel en slide. Josef McManus evenaart in de trage momenten Tom Rapp, zelfs Bob Dylan. En in de up-tempo songs is hij krachtiger dan Jack Daniels. Mag van mij nu al opgenomen worden in The Hall Of Fame. Verhalende alt-country met een West-Coast tintje….bloedmooie bloemlezing.
Josef McManus, alias White Owl Red, takes you by the balls: so diverse, so emotional, so melodic….so honest!
White Owl Red recently dropped Existential Frontiers, a 14-track collection of delicious alt-country rock/Americana music.
The musical project of singer-songwriter Josef McManus, White Owl Red includes drums by Kyle Caprista, guitars by Gawain Mathews, and backing vocals by Leah Tysee.
Based in San Francisco, Existential Frontiers is the third album from White Owl Red. The first album, Americana Ash, was released in 2014, debuting on the Americana Music Association’s Charts (AMA), where it stayed for fourteen weeks. The second album, Naked and Falling, garnered international praise and beau coup airplay during 2017 and 2018, hitting the Top 65 on the AMA’s chart, the Top 10 of FAR’s chart, and the Top 20 of Root 64’s airplay chart. Alternate Root Magazine placed Naked and Falling in the top 100 albums of 2017.
The album opens with the title track, an alt-rock tune seasoned with tasty Americana flavors on a shuffling groove topped by twangy guitars. McManus’ voice, rich and deliciously drawling, infuses the tune with a Dylan-esque frisson.
Highlights on the album include “Everything But Crying,” traveling on So-Cal country rock flavors reminiscent of Poco, only with more vocal oomph, as McManus struts his scrumptiously cool, offhand tones. “Lover Her Still” is a beautiful love song, rife with a subdued, almost tender guitar backed by the distant accenting wail of freight-train-like timbres.
“More More More” rides swampy blues colors and dark textures, as McManus imbues his voice with ominous flavors. There’s a wicked sensual feel to this tune, one that’s more admonitory than erotic. “Set Free” is one of those oozing, tasty, tumescent tunes vaguely reminiscent of Springsteen’s “Fire,” more because of the focused feel of the harmonics than anything else.
“Union Fight Song” thrums with dirty, growling guitars delivering low-slung hues and washes of sonic pressure. McManus’ luscious drawling, almost slurring voice really holds this song down. “Hand Me Down Girl” is my favorite track on the album because of its gentle harmonic flow and McManus’ inimitable and alluring half-twangy half-dreamy tones.
Existential Frontiers is splendid, devoid of even one subpar track. Contagious melodies pervade the album, while the highlight is always Josef McManus’ unique voice.