Album Reviews

words taking the path of poetry”

The Alternate Root Magazine

Afterglow is the fourth White Owl Red album, Release date: February 26, 2020

Current Reviews for Afterglow: Music That Needs Attention, Divide and Conquer, Goldmine Magazine (print edition), (Belgium), Direct Actu (France), FATEA, Keys & Chords, NeuFutur, The Hollywood Digest, Musikansich (Dutch),,  Daily Pop News, Lonestar Time (Italy), The Alternate RootIndie Band Guru, Tinnitist, AmericanaUK, Musikbloggen 67 (Sweeden),  Nya Skivor (Sweden), Le Cri Du Coyote (France), Berkeley Place, Written In Music, Americana Music Show, Winnipeg Free Press

Reviews for Afterglow single - I Walk The Line for You:, Divide and Conquer, Tattoo Magazine, Review Fix, Yellow & Black Music,

Reviews for Afterglow single -Working Class Heroes:  Stereo Stickman, Shockya, ReviewFix, The Indie Source, Music Existence, Rawkus Magazine, Matheson's Entertainment Blog

Reviews for Afterglow single Hold On: Yellow and Black Magazine,

Review for Afterglow single Afterglow (title track): YHHTMPC,


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,, Review Fix, The Ark of Music, Indie Pulse Music, Vents Magazine, Shock Ya, Henry Carrigan, Jr., PRVI Radio Slovakia, Jim Hynes, Tinnitist,, Lee Zimmerman,, Harry Kaplan , Indie Source, Music Existence, Stereo Stickman, Left Bank, Review Fix - Interview,  Razorfish Reviews,, musikbloggen67, David Masciotra, FAETA Magazine, LoneStar Time, AltCountry Netherlands Magazine, PopGeni Music Blog (Sweden), Folkworld,

Reviews for the album Naked and Falling: Divide and Conquer, The Alternate Root,  Lonestar TimeTwangri-La

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


Music Review: 2AM CHRISTMAS EVE (White Owl Red) 





Sometimes with new Christmas music, I feel stuck between the old-fashioned, the gloopy and the irritating (anything that sounds like Disney Radio). We’ll always have the greats (Ella, Frank, Bing, Bette, Babs) singing the greats (the most popular Christmas music was written by Jewish men), but as with so much plasticized output in all genres these days, where is an original, heartfelt tune awash in poetry that is for everyone, not just the religious? 

Welcome “2am Christmas Eve” from Josef McManus (alias: White Owl Red), the Singer/Songwriter from Portland who blurs in this song and his four albums the lines between Country, Rock, Folk, and Independent while retaining a homegrown Americana sound (some use “Alt-Country”). But it was the lyrics that first grabbed me: 

Met her at a party, It was after 2am 
Din’t ask her what she wanted, She didn’t ask me where I’d been 
Won’t you take me home I just got to get out of these clothes 
There ain’t nothing that you know / That’s gonna save us, from ourselves 
Sitting at the table / Drinking whiskey with doctors and lawyers 
They didn’t have the answers / They gave me cherries and some cake 
Debutante sons and daughters, sat upright in their chairs 
Wearing their holiday finest, their dogs had ribbons in their hairs 
Won’t you take me home I just got to get out of these clothes 
There ain’t nothing that you know / That’s gonna save us, from ourselves this Christmas Eve 

Here is an artist capable of plumbing the depths of America’s soul without using the angry spittle we hear in so many of today’s protest songs. Did I say, “protest”? Well, some of his cuts do deal with social issues, but just being alive in America today IS a social issue. And I believe this is what McManus is exploring. I didn’t realize how slaked I was for meaty content until I recently heard the new Joni Mitchell Archives of previously unreleased material. 

White Owl Red’s site states what I feel: He explores the messy complexity of contemporary culture and values with ferocity and vulnerability, embracing musical innovation without pandering to formula. He writes in his bio about his beginnings that he was “interested in the concept of finding the beauty in the imperfection and flaws in life while expressing that through my art, in contrast to the dominant culture cult-of-perfection.” Please support this artist on his site, and check out his albums Americana Ash, Naked and Falling, Afterglow, Existential Frontiers and, coming out in 2021, Running Blind. 

Here’s another single Xmas Single, “Heartbreak for Christmas”: I’m ready for that Holiday Album now, Mr. McManus.


Reviewers’ Picks for May 2020


Afterglow by White Owl Red 

Calvin Powers 

Normally I like a little more grit in my country music. On the on the hand, White Owl Red have sanded down and polished their sound to a very smooth finish that shows off the grain in the wood. Fair enough. They are excellent story tellers too. They cite Johnny Cash as an inspiration and you can hear that both in the subjects of the songs and the vocal delivery. 

Lyndon Bolton: 

It’s hard to imagine this was once a grunge artist such is Josef McManus’s lyrical and musical sensitivity. Her probes the deep roots of folk to create his own layered sound. ‘Working Class Heroes’ probably sums up the quality of both his wise writing and music. 

Tony Ives: 

Josef McManus appears to be the said fowl and in this gently 70s rolling folk rock album he lays down some pleasant and accessible tunes that are acoustic and beautifully arranged. His voice is a dreamy tenor often complemented by harmonies. Us critics like a little more ‘edge’ but I’ve seen albums of such melodic, yet unexceptional, upbeat outings soar in the charts over the years. Maybe our feathered friend might get a break (not beak) and this will take flight. 

Bill Rutsch: 

I’d call this more folk than country or rock (other than “Tip Top Bob’s”) . Light accompaniment (snare, steel, organ, piano, guitars) to an airy, Woody Guthrie style delivery. Check out the deep electric guitar twang on the anthem “Working Class Heroe’s”.


White Owl Red 
Afterglow (Independent) 

J.J. McManus (a.k.a. White Owl Red) is now four albums into his musical recordings career and it’s worth explaining why his work has been credited for being "better alt-country music. 

Afterglow has heart and it has power. McManus delivers the kind of songs that resonate of a thoughtful life, and those feelings are crafted into songs with meaning and even playfulness. There is no forcing of the moods here, either. The musicianship is of the highest quality and the group McManus has engaged for his albums (Kyle Caprista, drums, Gawain Mathews, guitars, and backing vocals by Leah Tysee, Tonia Smith and Sage Gray) are outstanding. 

The opening title track is essentially horrific in its subject matter, a sombre tale of abuse and death, yet in the hands of McManus and crew, the leisurely rhythm and sweet musical hooks draw you in. I Walk The Line For You is an idiosyncratic homage to Johnny Cash’s love for his wife, June Carter, and here McManus modulates his own appealing vocals just enough to sound like the Man In Black. 

The rollicking Out on the Waters offers a country and Celtic swagger that rolls along, buoyed by a snappy beat, accordion and mandolin. There’s some humour shot through the organ-charged Tip Top Bob’s, wherein one regular patron of the titular, off-the-beaten-track watering hole advises another "don’t bring a knife to a gunfight" and "don’t piss off Red when he’s feeling blue." 

The drifting country/folk of The Way I Feel would have been a perfect fit for Gregg Allman to sing on his way to the great gig in the sky. Always the worker’s union supporter, McManus delivers a worthy partner to Union Fight Song from his 2019 album, Existential Frontiers, with the dutiful and insightful Working Class Heroes. 

Afterglow proves once again that McManus can create beauty from the residue of his life experiences and supply the kind of emotional immediacy that makes for a cool listen. ★★★★ out of five 

STREAM THESE: Through is Through, Tip Top Bob’s 

— Jeff Monk



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.

Lee Zimmerman







White Owl Red, the American heritage

Today we're going to be talking about a pretty special artist White Owl Red.

The fourth studio album of White Owl Red in his new album remains in the tradition of and indie folk. The first extract published is  Afterglow.

What touched us were the messages conveyed in his titles, they are often very poignant and committed. The instrumentation is a musical background allowing travel and introspection.

Afterglow is a song about the consequences of child abuse from the perspective of a person living with its effects. The artist explains that part of the inspiration for the song came from Silvio Rodriguez Ojala, and from his own experience. Very attached to the respect of the rights of Man and Woman.

Other titles like Hell and the Blues are about the moment when you try to rebuild after a difficult breakup.

The artist talks in his biography of his life on the roads constantly driving and temporarily landing on the right and on the left. I have moved a lot in my life and spent time in my early 20s hitchhiking and later, when I could afford a pickup truck, I made long trips by car Across the country. I was inspired by Jack Kerouac and other writers. Originally, I wanted to be a novelist, but I ended up writing songs. In this song, I played with the concepts of love, loss and regret. Trail of Tears is a reference to the forced resettlement of Native Americans in the United States far from their ancestral lands. It's such a powerful image for me. ”

This musical genre is very little represented in France and we found it a bit difficult to stick the atmosphere to a local representation. In our minds are engraved despite everything several westerns and standard American clichés. Hell And The Blues is one of those titles which out of their album context would not really have their place on our site, because it does not really correspond to the current editorial line.

However, on this album we found nuggets like Hold On , its instrumentation is soaring and makes us shiver. It looks a bit like the different songs of Joe Dassin, who had drawn from the American repertoire and made several adaptations, it is not the only title to make us think of that, there is also I Walk The Line For You . If Hold On is light, this can be explained by its history, it is a kind of post-modern love poem. A rather touching title, which made us reflect on certain past and current situations of our lives.

In this melodic flow hides  I Walk The Line For You, which is very similar to the tube  City of New Orleans  written and composed by Steve Goodman, which appeared in 1971 on the album  Steve Goodman. In France, that means nothing to you, but it was adapted by Joe Dassin and renamed Salut les Amoureux. In the sonority there are also few Johnny Cash and at times there is also a possible comparison to Willie Nelson.

Who is White Owl Red?

White Owl Red is an American rock / country music project based in San Francisco, founded by singer-songwriter and guitarist J. Josef McManus. His titles are very roots and sound like traditional American music. He is based in San Francisco and released an album that stayed on the tops for 14 weeks in 2014. J. Josef McManus is a member of the Americanana Music Association (AMA).JULIENJAMESVACHON



Blog by Theo Volk (Netherlands)Translated from Dutch via Google Translate

Josef McManus is an independent singer-songwriter living in Marin, California. Since 2013 he has released albums under the stage name White Owl Red. However, he already wrote his first song in 1992 while studying sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The songs of Kurt Cobain and the raw energy of the grunge era were a major source of inspiration. After his studies he regularly visited Tony Fitzpatrick’s art studio Big Cat Press. Tony once asked him to give his friend Steve Earle a ride to the Old Town School of Folk Music, where Earle was a teacher at the time. During that drive, Earle enthusiastically told him about teaching there.

Just like former art student Al Gold, Josef decided to take lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Josef amply praises the qualities of the music institute: “It was an amazing place to learn the craft of music. There’s this great lineage or songwriting that came out of that building. "

In recent years, he took full advantage of his knowledge of music acquired there and his repertoire evolved more and more towards indie folk, and Americana. Some of his songs on his fourth album Afterglow had the necessary time to ripen, or as Josef describes it nicely: “Sometimes songs take years for me to finish, to find the right word or phrase, the right arrangement. A lot of these songs on Afterglow are like old friends or mine that finally learned to fly right. "

He is never shy about interesting and personal stories. In addition, he leaves enough room for a personal interpretation for the listener: “I like to leave my songs open enough that the listener can come into them and find their own meaning. Good art, in my opinion, is like that. " Yet Josef was kind enough to give me some background information about the songs.

He found his inspiration in Chile for opener and title song Afterglow and The Way I Feel Now. The former are about the consequences of child abuse, victims of it have in almost all cases been signed for their entire lives. In composing, he was inspired by the song Ojalá by Silvio Rodríguez, a Cuban singer who denounced the systematic human rights violations of the then Pinochet regime.

He wrote The Way I Feel Now fairly recently on his uncle's ranch, because he missed his girlfriend very much and was looking forward to seeing her again. His girlfriend can also be heard as a background singer on Hold On, a postmodern love song.

Hell and the Blues is about getting your life back on track after a broken love relationship by traveling. When he was in his early twenties he did so on foot and later by car, mainly due to the well-known book "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.

Of course I Walk the Line (For You) relates to Johnny Cash. Josef was touched by how Cash sounded on his last album, after surviving his wife June Carter. The two had a tumultuous marriage. It made him think about his own trials of relationships. Johnny Cash died shortly after he finished the song.

Josef recently learned that his great-great-grandfather was Irish and was taken by boat to Chile as a servant. It led to the song Out on the Waters. It was written in Mexico, by the way.

Josef married in the early twenties, his wife at the time was an artist and poet. He lived with her in a small old house in Chicago. Unfortunately, the relationship went wrong and they divorced in 2002 and Josef made a new start in California. Recently, memories and emotions from that period came over him again, resulting in Through is Through.

After completing his studies, Josef worked in a machine shop for a while. A seventies worked there, who regularly told him special stories about Chicago. A story was about the two hillbillies Arkie and Cotton who were murdered in a honky barrel place called Tip Top Bobs.

Afterglow is an excellent, varied album full of personal and interesting stories, with the possibility of own interpretations.



Josef McManus is een onafhankelijke singer-songwriter woonachtig in Marin, California. Sinds 2013 brengt hij albums uit onder de artiestennaam White Owl Red. Zijn eerste song schreef hij echter al in 1992 tijdens zijn studie beeldhouwkunst aan the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Grote inspiratiebron vormden de songs van Kurt Cobain en de rauwe energie van het grungetijdperk. Na zijn studie bracht hij geregeld een bezoekje aan Tony Fitzpatrick’s art studio Big Cat Press. Een keer vroeg Tony hem diens  vriend Steve Earle een lift naar the Old Town School of Folk Music te geven, waar Earle toen leraar was. Tijdens die autorit vertelde Earle hem vol enthousiasme over het les geven daar. 

Net als voormalig kunststudent Al Gold besloot Josef les te nemen aan the Old Town School of Folk Music. Josef roemt ruimschoots de kwaliteiten van het muziekinstituut : “It was an amazing place to learn the craft of music. There’s this great lineage of songwriting that came out of that building.”. 

De afgelopen jaren deed hij volop zijn voordeel met zijn daar opgedane muziekkennis en evolueerde zijn repertoire steeds meer richting indie folk, en Americana. Een aantal van zijn liedjes op zijn vierde album Afterglow hadden de nodige tijd om te rijpen, of zoals Josef het mooi omschrijft : “Sometimes songs take years for me to finish, to find the right word or phrase, the right arrangement.  A lot of these songs on Afterglow are like old friends of mine that finally learned to fly right.”. 

Nooit zit hij om interessante en persoonlijke verhalen verlegen. Daarbij laat hij genoeg ruimte voor een eigen interpretatie voor de luisteraar : “I like to leave my songs open enough that the listener can come into them and find their own meaning.  Good art, in my opinion, is like that.”. Toch was Josef me zo vriendelijk me wat meer achtergrondinformatie over de songs te geven. 

Voor opener en titelsong Afterglow en The Way I Feel Now vond hij zijn inspiratie in Chili. Eerstgenoemde gaan over de gevolgen van kindermisbruik, slachtoffers ervan zijn in bijna alle gevallen voor hun hele leven erdoor getekend. Hij liet zich bij het componeren inspireren door het lied Ojalá van Silvio Rodríguez, een Cubaanse zanger die de systematische mensenrechtenschendingen van het toenmalige Pinochet regime aan de kaak stelde. 

The Way I Feel Now schreef hij vrij recent op de ranch van zijn oom, omdat hij zijn vriendin erg miste en ernaar uitzag om haar terug te zien. Zijn vriendin is trouwens op Hold On, een postmodern liefdeslied,  te horen als achtergrondzangeres . 

Hell and the Blues gaat over het weer op de rails krijgen van je leven na een verbroken liefdesrelatie door te gaan reizen. Toen hij begin twintig was deed hij dat te voet en later per auto, vooral door toedoen van het bekende boek “On the Road” van Jack Kerouac. 

Uiteraard heeft I Walk the Line (For You) betrekking op Johnny Cash. Josef werd geraakt door hoe Cash klonk op zijn laatste album, nadat hij zijn vrouw June Carter had overleefd. De twee hadden een tumultueus huwelijk. Het zette hem tot nadenken over zijn eigen beproevingen in relaties. Johnny Cash overleed kort nadat hij de song afgemaakt had. 

Onlangs vernam Josef dat zijn betovergrootvader Iers was en als knecht per boot meegenomen was naar Chili. Het leidde tot de song Out on the Waters. Het werd trouwens geschreven in Mexico. 

Begin twintig trouwde Josef, ook zijn toenmalige vrouw was artiest en dichter. Samen met haar woonde hij in een klein oud huis in Chicago. Helaas liep de relatie op de klippen en scheidden ze in 2002 en maakte Josef een nieuwe start in Californië. Onlangs bekropen hem  weer herinneringen en emoties uit die periode, met als resultaat Through is Through. 

Nadat hij zijn studie had afgerond werkte Josef een tijdlang in een machinewerkplaats. Daar werkte een zeventiger, die hem geregeld bijzondere verhalen over Chicago vertelde. Een verhaal ging over de twee hillbilly’s Arkie en Cotton die vermoord werden in een honky-tonkgelegenheid genaamd Tip Top Bobs. 

Afterglow is een uitstekend, gevarieerd album vol persoonlijke en interessante verhalen, met de mogelijkheid tot eigen interpretaties. 



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