Sunday, May 31, 2015

Way Out Weather, by Steve Gunn (Album of the Week)

Steve Gunn’s album, “Way Out Weather”, is impressive without being showy, catchy without a single hook, and mellow without being dull.  It’s also like s whole guitar store playing at once – many of the songs feature picking, strumming, sliding and fingering guitars working together to build a sound that is somehow always comfortable and controlled.

Many of the songs swell from a single guitar into a wall of sound, but the instruments step in so naturally that you don’t notice until suddenly you’re in the middle of a rock song jamming to a a full band.  It’s well-crafted, lush and welcoming. 

Unlike last week’s Dwight Yoakam album, there’s not a song here that will make you want to belt our your own version in the car or shower.  This isn’t a case of lyrics plus music equaling a song – the lyrics are part of the sound, and the whole thing fits together. 

This is a moody album, with a hint of foreboding but not a lot of action.  It is atmospheric and pensive.  You catch an occasional line of the lyrics murmured, but in at least 5 listens, I never caught enough to get a sense of what the lyrics were really saying.  That’s not to say that they’re not good lyrics – “Never look down at what you need to do” appears in the final track, and you get the sense that Steve Gunn takes pride in his workmanship without feeling the need to scream into a microphone. 

With the relaxed pacing and intricate instrumentals, this album recalls to me long hours of sitting around a dorm room listening to Steve Winwood or the Dead, enjoying the company of friends and perhaps a mood enhancer.  There’s nothing here to harsh the mellow.

I read a review somewhere refer to this album as “mope folk”.  I don’t think that’s a fair description, but I know what he means.  Gunn tends to drop his voice at the end of lines as though lapsing back into quiet is as important as speaking.  It’s the opposite of “up-talking”,  and it lends a world-weary inflection to the songs. 

Several of the songs hint at environmental concerns, and the album cover features a huge stack of refuse, but there’s not going to be a call to action in this mellow collection of songs.  Instead of “fight the power!”, you get more of a head shake and a mumbled “bummer” out of this effort.

If you want an album you can shut your eyes to and just listen to sonic layers of well-worked guitar, you will love this one.  I’m going to a festival this summer where he will be performing, and I am really looking forward to seeing him live.  He’s a hell of a musician, and I bet the crowd will be a real trip.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin writes an amazingly similar review.  We didn’t discuss this album at all before writing our pieces, but you could accuse us of plagiarism in our write-ups.  Too funny!

Next up:  Too Bright, by Perfume Genius

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