In the misty shadow of a vibrant twang, “I Walk the Line (For You)” begins to unfold before us in what first feels like slow-motion, only to find its gallop less than thirty seconds into it’s roughly five-minute running time. The chills this track induces on the spot are admittedly just as memorable as those that precede it in the bucolic ballad “Hold On” in the swanky star folk-rocker “Hell and the Blues”.
When listening to White Owl Red’s new album Afterglow in its entirety, they’re each as essential to the record’s story as any single verse singer/songwriter Josef McManus croons to us. White Owl Red means business in tunes like the gruff “Tip Top Bobs,” and he isn’t about to hold back from the mic nor a fine instrumental melody for anything.
Where “Out on the Waters” relies on its playful rhythm to create a mood around the lyrics its volley of swinging strings and percussion frame, other songs here, like the title track and “Wake Up,” are a little more multilayered in the musical tidal waves they produce. “Wake Up” churns like an active volcano getting ready to erupt at any second, while “The Way I Feel Now” starts off tense only to unwind into a relaxing ballad long before the song ever hits its halfway point, and despite the aesthetical differences they so robustly demonstrate, none of the material here sounds out of place at all – the opposite, really.
The folky “Through Is Through” makes as much sense as the countrified thrust of the political anthem “Working Class Heroes,” with McManus’ voice serving as the linchpin between all the diverse colors.Afterglow might not break the mold when it comes to what a folk-rock record should and could be in the year 2020, but if you’re looking for a consistently listenable, short and sweet LP that doesn’t ask anything out of its audience in exchange for a plethora of strong storytelling and unsophisticated swing, it’s a hard album to top this spring.
White Owl Red has done it again, and whether he acquires mainstream adulation for his efforts or not, this latest release deserves to be credited as one of the best new indie records you can own right now.