Album Review : Robert Jon & The Wreck – Shine A Light On Me Brother

Review by Peter Coates –

Release Date – 3rd September 2021

Last Light on the Highway was one of my absolute favourite reviews of 2020, and the band one of the many great discoveries of the year, so it was terrific to find a new album on the horizon from Robert Jon & The Wreck, country blues-jam rockers from Southern California.

The band has kept some pretty solid company in recent years, touring with the likes of Joe Bonamassa and Eric Gales, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Billy Sheehan, The Cadillac Three, Black Stone Cherry, Lukas Nelson, Devon Allman and Walter Trout to name a few, and are just about to head over the pond to the UK and Europe for an extensive tour (remember them!), which had promised to find a way Down Under as well!

These guys are not the easiest band to pigeon-hole because their sound manages to bring together a bunch of those 1970s and 80s classic and southern rock styles, with a focus on keyboards more than just Hammond Organ, and the clean pure vocals of RJB, with some inspiring backing vocals that range from raucous to soulful gospel – and this does all combine to give away the Southern California roots of the band – a little more laid back than some of their peers, but still featuring whiskey-fuelled vocals, soaring guitars and some real groove.

Title track and album opener Shine A Light On Me Brother kicks off with a cross between classic Lynyrd Skynyrd and gospel-tinged blues, with solid guitar riff, honky-tonk piano and stellar vocal harmonies, leading into a searing guitar solo from Henry James before the stripped-back middle eight gives us more of the gospel vocal, and then ramps up into something that takes me back to a classic southern rock track, Too Wild To Tame from The Boyzz, with brass section accents and all sorts of attitude!  The harmonies on this and a few other tracks are provided by an all-star Australian crew, in Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Prinnie Stevens.

The band gets into a blues-rock jam in Everyday, that is all about the restrictions caused by the COVID lockdowns and shuffles along with a driving groove driven by Andrew Espantman on the drums and lets the band run loose, in particular Steve Maggiora on the organ and piano, and another understated ripper of a lead break from Henry James while the girls just wail away in the background.  A more standard classic rock is up next with Ain’t No Love Song which has lots of commercial radio appeal, and sees a surprisingly light and pure voice coming from the big bearded RJ Burrison – which was a highlight of the last album for me.  This harks back to a number of great 1970’s and 80’s tracks – from Bachman Turner Overdrive to Free, and makes you just feel good.

Another song featuring the 504 Horns, also on the title track, is Chicago, a love song with a Motown vibe that is enhanced by the brass section, and has a stunningly catchy and melodic chorus.   Bass and drums just roll along keeping the flow moving, and guitar and keyboards are there to provide the soundscape that allows the horns to really steal the show.  There is an amazing saxophone solo here from Jason Parfait. 

A real change of pace and mood with an acoustic ballad, Hurricane, which is sparse and clean, guitar, piano of vocals, that gently rolls into the chorus with the full band, but without losing the simplicity of the arrangement, and allows the voice to convey the emotional struggle of the subject-matter.  There is a terrific slide guitar solo before the stripped-back final verse, and then a warm reprise of the final chorus.

The next track started out as an acoustic ballad from guitarist Henry James, and the band have pulled Desert Sun into a real West Coast southern rock ballad, with a sensational vocal arrangement, and another evocative guitar solo before the final stripped-back verse, and then more guitar through the outro to the close.  A slightly psychedelic droning guitar riff opens up Movin’ and is constant through the track, with the melody coming mainly from the vocals, and the tinkling piano providing the colour, with a groover of a chorus.  The interplay between the guitar and piano in the mid-section is a bit ethereal, and then builds back up through another couple of choruses, with some more of those Aussie-girls backing vocals adding to the atmosphere.

There is a wonderful elation in the feel of the soaring vocals and piano lines of Anna Maria, even though the subject matter is more sombre being about doomed relationships.  The drum patterns from Andrew Espantman really make this track, and the chorus is just immense, as well as having a huge hook to it.  The band took this track as an acoustic ballad and added some real bite to it, whether in the vocal / drum mid-section, or in the energy and power of the chorus in particular.  The standout track, with the spine-tingling intensity of the band’s best work, Brother is a heart-rending tale of mental-health issues, with the simplest of backing, subtle power chords, harmony vocals, and scintillating lead guitar work all combining to support the lead vocal line.  The guitar solo is just stunning, and really conveys all the pent-up emotion of the song itself – leading into the final refrain.

After the rawness of Brother, the album closes with a complete change of mood in Radio – an up-beat wild ride driven by a skiffle drum beat and helter-skelter piano, and a rabble of a chorus, then allowing the guitar and piano to swap breaks while the band throw in a range of backing shouts, and the whole thing gets wilder, louder and maybe faster through to the climax.

This is a band that keeps delivering a bunch of top-quality songs, with a breadth and range that is impressive, and still able to maintain a unique sound that has echoes of Bruce Hornsby, The Eagles and Allman Brothers, without ever sounding stale or dated, all topped off with the mellow warmth of RJ’s impressive voice – and the wonderful gospel-style arrangements on a few of these tracks really add some colour to the vitality of the album.

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Photo credit: Bryan Greenberg
Photo credit: Trees Rommelaere
Photo credit: – Maurice Moonen