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

White Owl Red -- Existential Frontiers    (click on image to watch video)

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


Lee Zimmerman






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