A rambling drumbeat brushes up against the twang of a distant guitar. The strings on the guitar are gruff, as if to tell us just how old and worn they are with every note they emit, but they’re not at all incapable of creating the right canvas for singer/songwriter White Owl Red to paint his picture atop of in the new song “I Walk the Line For You,” one of our first sneak peeks at the forthcoming LP Afterglow. Josef McManus, the mastermind behind White Owl Red, goes out on a limb with us lyrically and musically in “I Walk the Line For You” in a poignant nod to the one and only Johnny Cash, and his efforts prove worth it to anyone who loves cutting alternative country music.
McManus’ vocal is always at the center of the harmonies in this single, and while his words are conveyed in a texturally smoky croon as gritty as the guitar is in a couple of key moments, they’re never tainted by the rough tonality – quite the contrary, truth be told. White Owl Red is pretty good about creating a mood with every stitch of music bearing his moniker, and from start to finish in “I Walk the Line For You,” emotionality is transcending the implied physics of the arrangement altogether. A hue of longing bleeds from the vocal into the guitar, which in turn impacts the bassline and our very interpretation of the drums’ stoic beat. Some might find it a bit complicated for mainstream audiences, but personally I think it’s what makes McManus’ music so interesting to review.
Whether you’ve heard the collective works of White Owl Red prior to now or not, “I Walk the Line For You” is a great alternative country anthem designed as both a throwback and a thunderous affirmation of everything we already know about its creator. Josef McManus has come a long way in the last couple of years alone, and I think Afterglow could end up being the breakthrough moment that evaded him so stealthily in the 2010s. We’ll know for certain very soon, but in the meantime, this song is a must-add to any pastoral indie playlist without debate.