White Owl Red
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