Whether he’s searching through the haze of a distant harmony in “Through Is Through” or the dark “Wake Up,” indulging in self-aware exposure as a lyricist in “Hold On,” “Afterglow” or “The Way I Feel Now,” or simply digging into a swinging beat in “Tip Top Bobs,” the swaggering “Working Class Heroes” or Johnny Cash-inspired “I Walk the Line (For You),” White Owl Red is determined to give us the perfect mixture of folk poeticisms and rock rhythm in his new album Afterglow, the official sequel to his lauded 2019 LP Existential Frontiers. In Afterglow, Josef McManus – aka White Owl Red – celebrates the roots of the modern melody while boldly looking into the future of singer/songwriter Americana, and the results of his experimentations are sterling to say the least.
“Out on the Waters” is straight Dylan Americana if I’ve ever heard it before, and though the surreal “Through Is Through” flirts with similarly poetic themes in its sonic unfurling, its construction has a lot less to do with red, white and blue rhythm worship than a number like “Tip Top Bobs” does, but frankly, I think the balance of rebellious rockers and progressive folk compositions in Afterglow is precisely what makes this record so tough to put down once you’ve picked it up for the first time. White Owl Red wasn’t interested in sticking with the status quo in this latest release; if you ask me, I think it’s pretty obvious that he was looking to both strip away the varnish from his sound while getting back to the basics of classic American songcraft, both of which were smart moves on his part.
As I hear it, White Owl Red is confirming what most of us already knew and believed about his artistry in Afterglow; not only is he a premier indie singer/songwriter, but he’s a freewheeling master of folk-rock who isn’t about to conform to the standards of one genre over another in his pursuit of making beautiful music. This is easily his most captivating sound yet, and after getting swept away by songs like “Hell and Blues,” “Wake Up” and “Hold On,” I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more of his music in the near future.