Artist: White Owl Red; J. Josef McManus: singer-songwriter; features Kyle Caprista on drums and Gawain Mathews on guitars
Album: ‘Existential Frontiers’
Life can often times get messy, despite the meticulous planning people often put into their relationships and career paths. Versatile singer-songwriter, J. Josef McManus, who performs under the moniker White Owl Red, is the perfect example of a talented storyteller who effortlessly chronicles the way people react when they’ve lost their direction. On his recently released third studio album, the alt-country-Americana-driven ‘Existential Frontiers,’ the San Francisco-based musician relies the all-too-important message that life is about making, learning from, mistakes.
McManus innovatively expresses what it means to be authentic in modern society in an honest, gritty, poignant and vulnerable way during an unforgettable musical journey. Also driven by a blissful infusion of indie folk and roots, White Owl Red’s new 14-track record contemplates how his travels and the places he’s seen and been to, even the most seemingly unconnected moments, have influenced the way he looks for a place to call home. Combined with its contagious melodies and instrumentation, ‘Existential Frontiers’ offers a socially conscious and intelligent outlook in finding the beauty in the imperfection and flaws in life.
The raw and organic storytelling that McManus has become known for is instantly evident on the album’s title track, which opens the playlist. The ‘Existential Frontiers’ song sets the pace for the entire record, as he concedes there isn’t a hero coming through to solve life’s contemporary problems. The dashing number exemplifies a postmodern attitude that intriguingly still fits into the signature cowboy trope. The alt-rock-Americana tune is also supported by shuffling and twangy guitars, which expertly drives the singer’s rich and drawling vocals.
The opening Dylan-esque country song is followed by one of the album’s best entries, ‘Breaking Away.’ The slower paced track features McManus contemplating returning to the home where he’s comfortable. He admits that he’s thinking about where he made his start, but he also needs to break away everyday. Driven by a soulful guitar, the musician’s lyrics ponder how his house used to be full of laughter, as people were always welcomed and would never close down. But as hard times subsequently arose, he started to feel trapped there. The relatable and emotional tune pays tribute to the singer’s home and origins, but he admits that he also wants to expand past where he came from.
Another noteworthy entry on ‘Existential Frontiers’ is the blues and alt-rock-inspired seventh song, ‘More More More.’ The textured and layered track features ominous and sensual vocals from McManus, who passionately admits that he wishes he had something more to show for his life on the road.
‘More More More’ then delves into the record’s eighth entry, ‘See Through Me,’ which features more mellow instrumentation than its predecessor. The rustic, contemplative tune features the musician pondering how he hoped he would be with the woman he loved, as she could always see right through him. He also enthrallingly admits that he saw what their relationship could have been like in her eyes.
‘Existential Frontiers’ begins to wind down with its penultimate entry, ‘Take a Good Look,’ which is one of its best songs. The up-tempo honky-tonk throwback expertly blends McManus’ talent as a lyricist with the folk and country instrumentation. The singer chronicles how the woman he loved is looking back at their lost relationship, and she now wants him back. However, he’s not so quick to reunite with her, despite the good times they had together. While he was initially heartbroken over their breakup, he now has a sunnier deposition over moving on.
‘Take a Good Look’ then transitions into the album’s lat entry, ‘Wishing You Well,’ which is another memorable and noteworthy track. The tune is thoughtful and ultimately uplifting, as it maintains the high standards and timeless traditions of American folk music. McManus contemplates how it’s time for him to move on from his relationship, with a harmonica expertly driving the sense of melancholy. The musician admits that he chased after the beauty of the woman he loved, but their ultimate truths were out of synth, so their connection is over now. He wishes her well, as he’s accepted the ending of the relationships.
Life can often times get messy, despite the detailed planning people often put into their relationships and career paths. McManus is an ideal example of a talented storyteller who naturally chronicles the way people react when they’ve lost their direction. On ‘Existential Frontiers,’ the singer relays the all-too-vital message that life is about making, and learning from, mistakes.
McManus innovatively expresses what it means to be authentic in modern society in a poignant and vulnerable way during an unforgettable musical journey. Also driven by a blissful infusion of indie folk and roots, the musician’s latest alt-country-Americana record contemplates how his travels and the places he’s seen and been to, even the most seemingly unconnected moments, have influenced the way he looks for a place to call home. Combined with its contagious melodies and instrumentation, ‘Existential Frontiers’ offers a socially conscious and creative outlook in finding the beauty in the imperfection and flaws in life.