I first came across Robert Jon Burrison and his Californian good ol’ boys via their 2020 album Last Light On The Highway, which made my jaw drop in awestruck admiration. It’s not as if they play head-spinningly complex prog, scintillating jazz, or shredding metal; they’re just a good, old-fashioned country rock combo who write great songs and put them across with joyful enthusiasm and almost telepathic tightness. They had been recording albums for a decade before I came across them, and they are so, so good at it. The following year, when they self-released the album Shine A Light On Me Brother, I was happy to find it was just as good, and having seen them live, I know they aren’t just studio stars either; they rock each venue with easy-going grace and aplomb.
When they teamed up with Joe Bonamassa’s Journeyman production and distribution label though, it was a match made in heaven, and last year saw them perform a major world tour, leading to a stupendous live video and album this year, as well as a four-track EP named One Of A Kind. With the addition of four more songs, this has effectively now been expanded to a new studio album named Ride Into The Light, benefitting from the production skills of not only Bonamassa and his musical collaborator Josh Smith, but Bonamassa’s own producer Kevin Shirley, with the original four tracks being produced by Don Was and Dave Cobb. It seems they’re tripping over each other to get involved, as well they might – the guys are on as stunning form as ever.
The album kicks off with the four previously-released tracks, in a slightly revised order, but again choosing to use mid-tempo country hard rocker Pain No More as the opening salvo, backed by an acoustic guitar and Henry James Schneekluth’s rocking slide. This is followed by Who Can You Love, a smooth, rolling, melodic country song with tremolo guitar, piano backing and harmony vocals. Schneekluth selects an incisive, coil-tapped lead guitar tone for this one, which not only suits the mood of the piece, but adds texture and variation to his own superbly assured playing.
More guitar texture is added to the drunkenly angry Come At Me, with a mix of clear-toned arpeggio guitar and a rockier backing riff, then a louder, overdriven tone for the solos. This is a great song and my favourite number on the album by far; beautifully constructed, performed and produced, with subtle changes and variations all the way through. The band invokes a key change for the second guitar solo, then another one halfway through it, before modulating back to the original key, which is a pretty neat trick. Nevertheless, it’s Warren Murrel’s great, rocking bass that drives this one along, painting a fitting backdrop for Burrison’s tether-end vocal rant.
Another slide guitar rocker named One Of A Kind follows, before the first of the new numbers comes in, the triplet-time, slow bluesy rocker Bring Me Back Home Again. A powerful slide riff gives way to a sweetly-strummed mandolin as a backdrop to an emotionally desperate vocal line.
Lead single West Coast Eyes is another album highlight, a heart-smitten country love song with the album’s only female backing vocals, and with a riff reminiscent of The Beatles’ Please Please Me. Schneekluth knocks out a great, melodic slide solo, and Burrison croons contentedly while strumming an acoustic guitar. Then we return to the up-tempo rock with second single Don’t Look Down, which incorporates a bit of down-time halfway through, powered along by a low, rumbling bass, seemingly designed for audience interaction when they bring it out live.
Then the album ends all too soon on the title track Ride Into The Light, which starts with some Allman Brothers-style harmony guitar work before settling down into a textbook piece of chugging, melodic pop-rock. Burrison strums an acoustic guitar, with Hammond backing and muted electric guitar adding comfortable extra padding.
And this is where I have to raise an objection. They haven’t tried to hide the fact that half the album is exactly the same as the earlier EP, but they haven’t exactly shouted it from the rooftops either, and if I had bought the EP, then bought this album, I could see myself being a bit ticked off that it only, in effect, gives me four new songs. I have no objection to them expanding a 4-song EP to an 8-song album, others have done it before, but the whole caboodle still barely breaches the 30-minute mark. The guys are prolific songwriters, and I’m sure they have plenty more material kicking around at home; just one more song would have brought it up to the length of an old-fashioned single vinyl. Still, if this is your first introduction to the band’s work, it’s unlikely you’re going to go home disappointed; they’re a great band and this is great music.
Ride Into The Light by Robert Jon & The Wreck will be released on 4 August 2023 via Journeyman Records