Hailing from Southern California, the veritable home of cool, Robert Jon Burrison and his band of rockers have been releasing albums, mini-albums and EPs since 2011. Listeners to Planet Rock may well be familiar with the lead single, Oh Miss Carolina, from last year’s album Last Light On The Highway, which could have made massive headway in the UK were it not unfortunately timed for release in the very first days of the COVID lockdown in March 2020, which of course screwed up their (and everybody else’s) touring schedule. Nevertheless, it was a barnstorming country rock album, presenting the kind of southern blues power usually associated with the south-eastern United States. I was keen to find out if this one met the same standard, because although it’s a niche genre in the UK, I was massively impressed with that set.
Well, the good news is that this is more of the same. The line-up is the same too, with Burrison’s grungy rhythm guitar and gravelly vocals augmented by Steve Maggiora on keys, Henry James on lead guitar and Warren Murrel and Andrew Espantman on bass and drums. The last album also featured Joe Bonamassa’s venerable female vocal backline of Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins, and they have also been retained, except that McRae’s place is taken by Prinnie Stevens. That last album started off with one of the best and most catchy tracks of the set, the aforementioned lead single, and this one does the same – the opening title track starts as a mid-tempo country rocker, with a groovy guitar riff reminiscent of The Seahorses’ Love Is The Law, before shifting up a gear to become a rapid juggernaut with subtle horns in the background. It toggles between the two tempos, with loads going on – slide, piano, horns and background vocals, all very subtle, but adding up to a huge wall of sound. The band’s male voices harmonise spectacularly, but the backline of gospel-tinged female vocals boosts the energy levels still more, while also adding to the texture.
Country rock is an elastic genre, capable of providing anything from twangy rockabilly to alcohol-soaked blues, but it’s not particularly known for a lot of variation within each song. This, I think, is where The Wreck scores heavily, with huge barrages of sound dropping into quiet troughs, then rising again in waves. Hurricane, for instance, starts on melancholy acoustic guitar, develops into a late-evening maudlin ballad, building to a great slide solo with tight stops, while all the time weaving in and out of mood with almost telepathic tightness.
Even more shape and colour is added by the folk-poppy Anna Maria, with its jangly rhythm guitar way down in the mix behind rumbling tom work, and closing track Radio, a boppy, up-tempo rock’n’roll number complete with echoey guitar and rim-shot rhythm. The only thing this set is lacking is a full-on epic like their tremendous Light On The Highway from last year’s album. That track deserves a place in rock history sure enough, and deserves to be a classic, but the standard on this set still keeps the bar set good and high. They wear their provenance on their denim sleeves; to fans of The Allman Brothers, their output will seem like an old friend. Their scheduled tour later in the year supported by Brit rocker Troy Redfern should be an absolute fest of the best that country blues can offer. I still maintain my opinion from last year: Robert Jon And The Wreck are a southern rock band, pure and simple – only better.
Robert Jon & The Wreck’s new album “Shine A Light On Me Brother” is released on September 3 and is available to pre-order from www.robertjonandthewreck.com