With a gentle beat and a furiously-strummed acoustic guitar, White Owl Red welcomes us to the protest anthem “Working Class Heroes” with open arms, and in the next few minutes that follow all within striking distance of the speakers will be treated to one of the most intimate and unforced indie performances of the season. The drums gradually evolve into a light gallop as White Owl Red presses forward, and though their stomp is quite enticing in its own right, the real gem at the onset of this track is the tuneful string play. It dances in a carefree rhythm that is embracive and inspirational, and it isn’t long before we’re feeling the urge to join in its swing.
The harmonies that the guitar stirs up remain the bedrock of “Working Class Heroes” from beginning to end, but as singer/songwriter Josef McManus starts to sew his cutting verses into the instrumental melody, it becomes slightly difficult to divide our attention between the two. This changes as the mix shifts the string parts away from the vocal, clearing out some space for McManus to really give it to us from behind the microphone, and once he’s into the chorus, there’s no question as to what the real crown jewel in this single is. It’s as powerful a performance as he’s ever given, but comparative to anything that his closest rivals have been recording in the late 2010s, its far and away one of the most rousing that I’ve personally reviewed.
“Working Class Heroes” ends in a haze of violent, screaming electric guitar and a vocal harmony that gives me chills every time I hear it. Simply put, White Owl Red score another slam dunk in this latest studio cut, which might be the most political and scathing McManus has penned in 2019. Along with the album Existential Frontiers, I would rank this as among the more important independent releases to make headlines all year long, and while it’s hardly the only folk record to be capturing the affections of critics like myself lately, it’s perhaps one of the only contemporary singles that I would deem accessible to listeners outside of the genre’s insular inner-circle.