Right at the end of the record, there’s a bit at the end of the very last track, that seems to sum up the vibe of “Shine A Light On Me Brother” better than anything I say could. “Radio” Is a fantastic song. Equal parts blues kicker, gospel recital and rock n roll as pure as the driven slush (I mean, check out the piano solo from Steve Maggiora) but its not even that that I am talking about. No, rather it’s the fact that the band are having just as much fun as you are in the studio as they record it.
That’s Robert Jon And The Wreck, right there.
Last year they released “Last Wreck On The Highway” – an album that on these pages that I said was probably the best of 2020, and it had the best song of the year too in “Oh Miss Carolina” – and this is more of the same, albeit with some subtle differences.
So lets get it clear from the off (this is the sort of thing that reviews are supposed to leave to the end, but whatever) “Shine A Light On Me Brother” is another copper bottomed classic.
The title track does gospel and soul in such a way that I’d renounce my atheism to worship at its altar alone, and if that’s more soul filled than their last one was, then it’s a natural progression. It’s a celebration of what we’ve got: “this has been the darkest time that we’ve known in our own age” sings Robert Jon Burrison, but damn him, he even makes the pandemic sound like it was fun.
“Everyday” gets bonus points for having the greatest backing singers on the planet on it (Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Prinnie Stevens – if they are good enough for Joe Bonamassa and all that….) and its typical, it’s a jam, its laid back, happy in its own skin (and probably high if the words are anything to go by….) but its fun. Moreover, where most jams are fun for the band this brings everyone along for grins.
The band are in fine form. Henry James is a brilliant guitarist, versatile. “Aint No Young Love Song” gets close to matching the majesty of the title track, sounding as it does like an outtake from “The River”, “Chicago” is a ballad with a difference and there’s a touch of the blue eyed soul of Eli Paperboy Reed here, too, and “Hurricane” is the sort of thing that your weather-beaten old Americana singer with his battered old acoustic in the folk club does, and anyone who gets to the line “…and timing was never our thing, I wish it was” without a reverie has had a more successful love life than me. But then RJATW don’t write songs for them…..
In short, this band could have been anything they wanted to be, at any point in the history of rock n roll. “Desert Sun” casts them in some Laurel Canyon light, and there’s a trance-like buzz to “Movin’”. The point of all this is that while no one is claiming to reinvent the wheel here, its more a celebration of how brilliant the wheel has always been.
Whether these songs are rooted in real experiences then only the band know, “Anna Maria” seems to come from the heart, though, and underlines the idea that when this band do ballads (as was the case on the last album too, actually) they are anything but sentimental.
Indeed, the best ballad on here deals with mental health issues in a raw way. “Brother” would be marvellous anyway, but goodness me, the way James plays guitar on this is stunning.
All of which brings us back to where we came in, as it were. “Radio” deals with the small town dreamers going out West, and it ends with the phrase: “Hollywood should go to hell!” and you know what, the bright lights don’t suit Robert Jon And The Wreck. All them superficial stars with no substance? Nah. This is real rock n soul.
Call it what you want, shine the light wherever you damn well choose, and the answer is the same, Robert Jon And The Wreck are an incredible band.