Robert Jon & The Wreck

2021

Those of you with long memories will fondly recall pre-virus times when live music ruled our diaries; small venues were often the most rewarding and the occasional gig was even free of charge! One such free venue was Big Red on Holloway Road in Islington (sadly the new owners have kept/stolen only the name, but not the music), which enjoyed a loose association with Ramblin’ Man Fair. Each year at least one band from the RMF roster would play a warm up (or warm down) gig at Big Red around the festival weekend; Skinny Molly and The Cadillac 3 are two notable examples.

And so it was on Friday 19th July 2019 when we were offered a double bill of Otis and Robert Jon & The Wreck; the bands may hail from Kentucky and California respectively, but I knew enough to know that what we’d get would be “Southern Rock”, so attendance was a no brainer.

I assumed that Otis would headline, as they had made a brief snowbound visit to London in March 2018, when the sparse crowd at the Boston Music Room in Tufnell Park was treated to an encore which included the band’s Kentucky buddies who had been happily propping up the bar: yes, Black Stone Cherry (who were in town doing some promotional work, I think) happily played to a crowd which probably numbered less than 50! But, no, Otis took to the Big Red stage first and vacated it after an entertaining hour; I don’t think any of us was quite prepared for what came next…

I had only managed to research Robert Jon & The Wreck via YouTube and the band’s website and I suspect that much of the packed bar was even further behind the curve, but 90 minutes later everyone was wondering why and how they’d never heard of the band before. Soon afterwards they landed a highly successful place on one of Joe Bonamassa’s Blues cruises and Europe prepared to welcome them back in the middle of 2020; ‘Last Light On The Highway’ was intended to accompany and promote that ultimately postponed tour.

They will hopefully be back this Spring for a handful of dates, including at the 100 Club (rescheduled for Friday 7th May), and in the meantime most of their back catalogue has gained a UK distribution on both CD and vinyl via Amazon and Proper Music. Many listeners will use ‘Last Light On The Highway’ as their starting point, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t then work their way backwards through the band’s impressive discography.

‘Oh Miss Carolina’ is a fine opener which should appeal to fans of Blackberry Smoke; it is also an introduction to the “whisky & honey” vocals of band leader Robert John Burrison, who also plays rhythm guitar, leaving most of the solo guitar work on the album to the impressive Henry James.

‘Work It Out’ benefits from both a mini horn section (just trumpet and saxophone) and some soulful backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes and Jade McRae (both of whom accompanied Joe B. on his last UK visit), together with Juanita Tippins. The song was written about the band members’ long-term romantic relationships, whereas the following ‘Can’t Stand It’ conversely deals with being left or ghosted by a significant other. ‘Can’t Stand It’ should also find favour with fans of The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers.

‘Tired Of Drinking Alone’ showcases Henry James’ fine slide guitar playing, which had left a few jaws on the floor at Big Red. As for Robert Jon’s vocal, while nobody will ever quite fill the void left by Gregg Allman, this is plenty good enough to make me miss Gregg just a little less.

‘Do You Remember’ includes some lovely unison guitar work which suggests that Robert Jon and Henry love the Allman Brothers Band as much as many of us do. ‘This Time Around’, like several of the preceding songs (few of which exceed 4 minutes), should hopefully ensure that the band gets some radio airplay to further boost its growing reputation.

Southern Rock generally lives happily with one foot in Country music and the other in Rock, but ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ shows that this band can rock out with the best of them. ‘One Last Time’, in contrast, starts off much slower, with the soulful backing vocalists back on board, before Henry’s solo brings it to a conclusion. ‘Gold’ maintains the slower mood, with Robert Jon’s vocals to the fore throughout, save for another brief, but soaring guitar solo.

The two-part title track which concludes the album begins with Robert Jon’s voice cushioned by acoustic guitar and subtle strings before moving to a heavier, slightly Prog-ish feel with the strings introducing more guitar, then Steve Maggiora’s tasteful keyboard work. Warren Murrel’s bass locks in with the energetic drumming of Andrew Espantman, before the acoustic guitar returns to bring things home.

Based on personal experience, I would unreservedly recommend this band to you as a live act; although the solos here are a little constrained by time, this studio session is still a fine piece of work and an excellent introduction to what will, for many, be a new band (although, like Blackberry Smoke, these guys have been waiting for nearly a decade to gain a foothold in Europe). Why not buy this album and a live one too, just to get the full flavour? You won’t regret it!

Oh Miss Carolina; Work It Out; Can’t Stand It; Tired Of Drinking Alone; Do You Remember; This Time Around; Don’t Let Me Go; One Last Time; Gold; Last Light On The Highway Pt. 1; Last Light On The Highway Pt. 2.

Gary Smith

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