The Unseen In Between
It’s hard to keep up with Steve Gunn – he’s been prolific and very good; so you return to the albums you love. And already there are plenty. Here I am just catching up with this year’s new release (which arrive back in January).
One thing that’s been noticeable across each release is his development as a songwriter. He hit the recording and touring circuit seemingly full-formed as a guitar player, one of many names (Ryley Walker is a friend and obvious comparison) that were reaching back to John Fahey and stretching forward from John Martyn. But Gunn is showing a Richard Thompson-like ability to bounce from acoustic to electric and back and, he’s, increasingly showing a great skill as lyricist; painter of pictures, observer of – as the title of the new album tells us – the bits others don’t notice.
Most affecting – and effective – on this album is Stonehurst Cowboy, an ode to his father who died after a two-year cancer battle just after the release of Gunn’s previous record (the brilliant Eyes On The Lines). The song is about so many unspoken things, the rekindling of a friendship between two generations in a family; so many things not understood but that no longer matters. And in this song and the following Luciano, another song that worries about human connections and contentedness, we have a throwback to when Gunn operates in a space that could feel like long, lost folk recordings from the 1960s or 1970s.
Elsewhere though (Vagabond) there’s dreamy full-band pop music. This album’s opener, New Moon, has a Byrds-ian shimmer and is deceptively hooky through its stop-start folk-rock reverie.
Later (New Familiar) we have the sort of slow-burn guitar odysseys that Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have been cooking up in separate kitchens since Sonic Youth closed shop.
Gunn is making idiosyncratic pop delights that have links to pastoral places in music’s recent history. He is making music that is both deeply personal and somehow utterly, instantly accessible. But it never begs you to like it, there’s no pleading here. Just wonderful music that is immaculate and yet has such obvious heart and soul beneath and within it. The playing has always been of the highest order, now his singing and writing voice are up on the same shelf. The top shelf.