“I ain’t tryin’ to start a class war” pleads Josef McManus, the mastermind behind White Owl Red, in the new single “Working Class Heroes,” the latest release from his critically acclaimed solo project. White Owl Red gets back to the basics of red, white and blue melodies adorned with smart, provocative lyrical commentary designed to make us think about the world around us in “Working Class Heroes,” which I would describe as a song simultaneously polarizing and unifying in narrative. Through its magnificent meld of textures it easily qualifies as one of McManus’ most moving and well-rounded compositions to see widespread release under this moniker (which is certainly no small statement to make).
Its socially relevant lyrics aside, this track is really entrancing from a sonic perspective. The strings, vocals and percussion are very carefully layered as to draw us closer and closer to the epicenter of harmonies with each passing verse. Aesthetically, “Working Class Heroes” has as much in common with old school folk-rock as it does a pop-sensible, contemporary singer/songwriter sound, and one could even make the argument that there’s enough of a country twang present to make it attractive to the Nashville crowd as well. There’s no getting around its crossover appeal, but I don’t get the impression that it was created to expand White Owl Red’s creative reach exclusively.
McManus’ vocal is really raw and unguarded in “Working Class Heroes,” similar in style to John Roderick but still focused enough for us to recognize his trademark timbre. His delivery is on-point with the string parts consistently, and he makes use of his range quite well in this single. Unlike many of the tracks in this year’s spellbinding Existential Frontiers, this song has a vitality to its swing that makes me wonder just how personal its message is to McManus, who despite never shying away from the spotlight hasn’t sounded quite as exposed as he does here.
I’ve been following White Owl Red’s music for a couple of years now, and this is definitely one of the best singles that the project has produced since its rookie release. There are a lot of up-trending indie folk-rockers in the United States and Canada right now, but few are making the kind of tenacious, unbound melodies that this solo vehicle has year in and year out. “Working Class Heroes” is a compelling song that demands a reaction out of its audience for better or worse, and in today’s plasticized music business, this makes it quite the rare find indeed.