Thursday 5th March 2020. That was the last time I went to a live gig, one of the fortunate ones to see Samantha Fish before she had to pack up her tour halfway through due to the Covid lockdown. Here we are, 18 months later, and I’m fortunate again to break my fast on Robert Jon & The Wreck, a country-infused rock band from California, but with a pronounced Southern States vibe. They have flown 5,000 miles and are playing at a venue I had never attended before, The Bourne Club in Sittingbourne, Kent, despite it being little more than 30 minutes down the motorway from me.
First up though, was rocking UK slide guitar maestro Troy Redfern, warming up the crowd with a one-man show. Swapping between two vintage resonator acoustic guitars, and keeping up a rhythm on a kick drum at the front of the stage, he started proceedings with Sanctify from his new album The Fire Cosmic. It’s a great number to start the night, and half an hour later, he winds up his set with his highly individual take on Hendrix’ Voodoo Chile, including some spaced-out slide shredding.
Without a full band, Redfern’s act had played out at a reasonably comfortable volume, but the peace was certainly shattered when Robert Jon Burrison and his wrecking crew powered into their first number, the hard-rocking The Devil Is Your Only Friend, from their 2015 debut album Glory Bound. It was clear from the start that the Americans meant business, and their second number, Do You Remember from their 2020 album Last Light On The Highway, included some harmony guitar work straight out of the Allman Brothers’ songbook. The first major highlight of the set though, came with the next number, the funky-riffed Hey Hey Mama, morphing into a metal-heavy solo section which allowed guitarist Henry James to let loose on some awesome soloing. This was followed by the slow blues Work It Out, which I have to admit was not one of my favourites from the album, but the delivery was perfection itself, and its hooky chorus ensured that this was the earworm that was stuck in my head when I woke up the next morning!
From then on though, it was a hard-rocking string of awesome numbers and superb musicianship. To be truthful, there is nothing flashy about the band; they don’t mess with jazz scales or progressive time signatures, and the lyrics tread the age-old country path of broken relationships, women and booze – but this is all about the band. Robert Jon himself is a genially charismatic, gravel-voiced, bushy-bearded front man, and his good ole boys are all superb musicians, capable of near-telepathic rise and fall, power and subtlety, which makes every number a roller coaster in its own right. Steve Maggiora’s church organ intro to The Death Of Me heralded another evening highlight, James switching between guitar sounds to add colour and shape to the song.
After breaking a string on his trademark black Music Man, Robert Jon picks up a Les Paul for rocking country blues anthem Can’t Stand It, while James and Maggiora play out a harmonising guitar and keyboard line. Such is the quality of the set that we were halfway through the next number, Tired Of Drinking Alone, before I remembered that this was my favourite song from their last album, with a great singalong chorus – at the end of the number, RJ announces that, this being only the second night on their UK tour, this is the first time that song has been played in the UK. He confirms later on that their policy is to play at least some different songs at each gig.
He manages to get almost the entire audience on their feet for the title track from their new album, the uplifting, up-tempo anthem Shine A Light On Me Brother. Of course, the band builds to an epic jam on Cold Night before crash-ending the gig to a standing ovation. Wisely, they opt not to try to out-rock themselves for the encore, instead bringing the tempo down with the more sedate Glory Bound, finishing as they started, with a song from 2015.
Having reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed both of The Wreck’s last two albums, as well as Troy Redfern’s latest offering, it was a mouth-watering prospect to catch both acts at once, at my first gig after so many barren months. And I’ll tell you what, I’m glad I went.
Robert Jon & The Wreck Sept 2022 UK tour with Troy Redfern
Leeds Brudenell Social Club – Sunday 19 September
Newcastle The Cluny – Monday 20 September
Manchester Night & Day Cafe – Tuesday 21 September
Nottingham The Bodega – Wednesday 22 September
London The 100 Club – Thursday 23rd September (Sold Out)
Edinburgh The Voodoo Rooms – Friday 24th September (Sold Out)
Aberdeen Café Drummonds – Saturday 25 September
Hartlepool, South Durham Steel Works Club – Sunday 26 Sept