Robert Jon & The Wreck are a blast of fresh air, a class act, and a contender for album of the year with their latest offering, Shine A Light On Me Brother (3 September 2021). Following on from last year’s Last Light On The Highway the Orange County band, led by guitarist and lead vocalist Robert Jon Burrison, continue to grow and please with every step they take.
There is a reason that Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, and Walter Trout compete to share a stage with them, and that they continue to pile up awards, and that is because they both transmit joy and build on classic ’60s and ’70s rock sounds in an original way.
To achieve this Robert Jon has to be, and he is, ably-accompanied by his band: drummer Andrew Espantman, keyboardist Steve Maggiora, guitarist Henry James, and bassist Warren Murrel.
The barnstorming cut that opens the album Shine A Light On Me Brother plays a similar role that Oh Miss Carolina played on the band’s previous offering: it is a cheerful honky-tonk song that makes a statement about what is to follow. It basically says: ‘buckle up your seatbelt [brother!], because you are in for a ride!’. And that ride features some great guitars including, as Robert Jon confirmed in a conversation with Guitars Exchange: “an Ernie Ball Music Man Armada & an Epiphone Sheraton II [on the album]. The Epiphone Sheraton II was used more for the recording and Ernie Ball Music Man Armada is used more for live.”
The theme of the opening songs could be said to deal with the difficulties of the pandemic and the widespread desire to return to the simple pleasures of the life we knew. In this regard Everyday celebrates the gift of enjoying music and good friends. As before, superb backing vocals are provided by Mahalia Barnes and Juanita Tippins; and this time by the addition of Prinnie Stevens.
Next up are the love songs Ain’t No Young Love Song and Chicago, with the latter featuring a lovely horn arrangement and a mournful sentiment that asks the city of Chicago to “look after her when I’m gone”. This peach of a tune incorporates blues, R&B and soul, and a lovely melody line; it is a real delight.
Hurricane is an acoustic ballad that uses that force of nature as a metaphor for a loved one who leaves you ‘trying to calm the storm’. Henry James adds to the mournful feel of this Americana tune with some slick slide guitar.
Desert Sun steps up the rhythm once more with a James-penned song about unrequited love. This is followed by the acoustic guitar-driven Movin’, with its outstanding riff, sweet harmonies and ’70s retro feel. Anna Maria also deals with heartache, but is a lot more sophisticated lyrically than the usual fare. The storyline is also to the fore on Brother, which provides a powerful lyric about the challenges in supporting people you love who have mental health issues; it’s a special song. Album closer Radio throws a curveball by talking about problems within the music industry; it is more fun and upbeat than it sounds, both lyrically and musically, and provides another reason why this band makes you sit up and listen.
It is difficult to choose a favourite track on Shine A Light On Me Brother; they all have something to offer. Robert Jon & The Wreck just seem to be getting better and better, and it is a pleasure to be able to join them for the ride.
Robert Jon & The Wreck return to the UK for 12-date tour in May 2022. Tickets – www.alttickets.com/robert-jon-the-wreck-tickets