Nick Bollinger samples the American travelogues of guitarist Steve Gunn.
It’s been a good year for guitar heroes, of a particular kind. I’m not talking about the Joe Bonamassa tear-up-the-fretboard variety, but a more understated type, whose playing is rooted in folk styles but who isn’t afraid to explore the boundaries between tradition and experimentation. I’m talking about guitarists like William Tyler, whose excellent album Modern Country I reviewed earlier in the year; Ryley Walker, whose latest record Golden Sings That Have Been Sung shows him going from strength to strength. Or this guy.
Eyes On The Lines is Steve Gunn’s first release for the venerable indie label Matador, and a significant step forward, both sonically and songwriterly, for the Brooklyn-based, Pennsylvania-born guitarist. If you have encountered him before it may have been as a member of Kurt Vile’s group The Violators, who he played with for a number of years; you may have heard his duo album with Vile from last year, or even on one of his previous solo releases, which go back a decade to experimental home recordings and have been growing more sophisticated ever since. Still this latest album is a step forward by any measure. It’s a themed collection of songs, built on subtly interwoven guitars and a gently propulsive rhythm section, revealing a quiet observer’s eye.
The sense of motion that runs through Eyes On The Lines might be explained by the title. It refers to those highway markings that the travelling musician always has plenty of time to contemplate. And these songs are broadly a series of observations from the road. If William Tyler’s Modern Country album conjured without words a contemporary landscape populated by the ghosts of America’s past, Gunn’s songs might be painting that landscape in words as well as music.
Songs featured: Ancient Jules, Thew Drop, Heavy Sails, Full Moon Tide, Nature Driver, Park Bench Smile.
Eyes On The Lines is available on Matador.