By Martine Ehrenclou
Orange County, CA blues-inspired Southern rock n’ roll outfit, Robert Jon & The Wreck are set to release Last Light On The Highway on May 8th, 2020, produced by the band and Jeff Frickman.
And what an album it is. Get ready for 11 all-original, outstanding tracks, exquisite musicianship, and a lead singer with one of the most easy-on-the-ears voices. A cursory listen might have you assuming this is a Southern rock band with a serious eye for hits, expansive sounds and pristine production. Robert Jon & The Wreck is much more than that. And you’ll see why when you listen to the album and pay close attention to the last two tracks “Last Light On The Highway Part 1 and Part 2.”
Since 2011, Robert Jon & The Wreck have been releasing albums and EPs and touring the world at a furious pace, raking in award nominations and wins for “Best Rock,” “Best Blues” and “Best Live Band” at the Orange County Music Awards. They’ve also been busy supporting Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, Eric Gales, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Walter Trout, Rival Sons, and many more.
None of that will prepare you for the contemporary freshness of this band steeped in Southern rock n’ roll, blues and soul.
A follow up to their 2019 release, Take Me Higher, the band’s newest effort blasts off with “Oh Miss Carolina,” a rock tune with deep Southern roots, led by vocalist/guitarist Robert Jon Burrison. If the beautiful harmonies don’t get you, then Robert Jon’s vocals and the tight-knit band certainly will. The band includes Andrew Espantman (drums, background vocals), Steve Maggiora (keyboards, background vocals), Henry James (lead guitar, background vocals) and Warren Murrel (bass, background vocals.) Additional vocals by Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins.
The first thing that knocked me out about “Work It Out,” a bluesy soul number with a full horn section, was Robert Jon’s voice—soulful with tone you have to be born with. Enter lovely piano in this rhythmic track, plus interesting chord changes, and tasty guitar riffs. This is feel good music.
There’s plenty for the lovelorn on the album but these tracks aren’t wrapped in the usual Southern rock package. “Tired of Drinking Alone” might seem like a drinking song, but beneath the bourbon and wine is a romantic tune about mending fences with a lost love, an invitation to work things out. Slide guitar and the band’s signature harmonies pave the way.
There might be comparisons to The Allman Brothers’ twin guitar parts on a couple of songs, but the album soars far beyond that with heartfelt lyrics and vocals from a singer who is blessed with a voice and sincere vulnerability. Such is the case with “This Time Around,” a song about making mistakes and promising to be a better man this time around. If this were a different decade, this song and several others would be #1 summer hits.
Last Light On the Highway is your pre-summer feel-good album. Lord knows we all need this now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quality songwriting abounds on this record, including “One Last Time,” with one helluva melody, the band’s stellar harmonies and tasteful guitar riffs. This song takes a delicious turn at minute three with darker chords, a descending bass line and one killer guitar solo.
Country rock ballad, “Gold” is a heartbreaker of a breakup song. Sung from the point of view of the one who was ditched and betrayed, Robert Jon’s vocal is raw with emotion and he tells the story with vivid lyrics. The guitar by Henry James is as moving as the vocals and the song itself. Heartbroken or not, this song will make you feel something. And isn’t that what good songwriting is about?
Closing the album is, “Last Light On The Highway Part 1 and Part 2”. This made me want to see Robert Jon & The Wreck live. Part 1 opens with moody acoustic guitar, haunting vocals and ethereal backing vocals. Robert Jon’s sings, “The thunder of the road is my only friend. I’ll keep driving ‘till I’m the last light on the highway.”
“Last Light On The Highway Part 2” is pure excellence. Pushing the envelope in all the best ways, this is big production with big drums, a descending bass line, twin electric guitars, and strings (a nod to Gideon Klein for string arrangements), all riding into the rough weather of gritty guitar riffs. This track is so interesting musically and the piano is part of what makes it so good. It merges into a driving rocker with a galloping pace, and rises to crescendo with expert drumming, guitar and strings. This is a movie score if I ever heard one. Brilliant. And beautiful.
Watch “Oh Miss Carolina”
Robert Jon & The Wreck Online
Last Light On The Highway is available for pre-order on the band’s website here.