Archive for the Joe Pug Category

Best of 2010: 3-1

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Chip Robinson, Joe Pug, Top 21 of 2010 on January 2, 2011 by AmericanaPulse

#3 – Mylow – by Chip Robinson

If such a thing existed, Chip Robinson would be the hands-down winner of the Americana Comeback of the Year Award.  Robinson came onto the scene in the 1990’s as the front man of The Backsliders, an alt-country outfit out of Raleigh, NC.  The group released two studio albums and a live EP before disbanding in 2000.  After that, Robinson disappeared for the better part of a decade only to resurface earlier this year with the deeply personal Mylow.

Robinson recounts the lost decade on the dark, and almost industrial sounding album opener “Preface” when he tells of the “deep, dark, hole” he fell into full of drugs, alcohol, cancer, and darkness from which no one could rescue him.  The song is captivating  due to its rawness and sense of despair, but it ends with Robinson looking to find a way home.  And that’s the line this album walks so well.  All of Robinson’s clouds have a silver lining hiding somewhere, and while he deals with the missteps of his past, the album is also filled with a sense of joy for having returned with a fresh song to sing.

Chip Robinson: Preface (Buy Album)
Chip Robinson: Kutschy Rye (Buy Album)

#2 – Street Songs of Love by Alejandro Escovedo

My feelings on the music of Alejandro Escovedo have been well documented during the lifetime of this blog.  I’ve written about him more than any artist not named Scott Miller.  His 2008 CD Real Animal was the first new album I ever reviewed.  It was also my favorite album of 2008.  He produced one of my favorite albums of the past decade.  He melted faces at Tennessee Shines.  He did it again in January.

That most recent trip to Knoxville gave me the chance to actually talk to Escovedo for a while and preview several of the songs from this album a full week before he even went into the studio to record it.  I don’t know if it’s possible to love an album before you’ve heard it, but if you can… i did with this one.  Sonically, this is a continuation of Real Animal with the multifaceted Escovedo mostly playing to his rock and roll roots on full throttle rave ups like “Tender Heart,” “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” and “Faith.”  The latter features a duet with Bruce Springsteen.  The centerpiece of the album, however, is one of its slower numbers, “Down in the Bowery,”  a song Escovedo wrote for his son.

Alejandro Escovedo: Down in the Bowery (Buy Album)

#1 – Messenger by Joe Pug

My favorite album of the year is also my favorite discovery of the year, Messenger by Chicago songwriter Joe Pug.  Pug was studying to become a playwright at the University of North Carolina when he decided to turn his gift for wordplay to songwriting instead.  In fact, his debut EP Nation of Heat (available as a free download if you join his mailing list) was comprised primarily of songs that were based on ideas from a play he had been previously working on.  He embarked on a grass roots marketing and music distribution campaign to spread his songs and gain new fans, and his audience steadily grew and grew.  I first discovered his music when I learned he would be the opening act for Josh Ritter at the Bijou Theatre back in May.  I want to thank Ritter for giving me the nudge I needed to give this record a shot.

With a few exceptions, Messenger is a bare bones kind of album.  The arrangements are sparse and focus mainly on Pug’s words and gentle acoustic melodies.  Truthfully, that’s all he needs.  Whether he sings as the fallen soldier who asks to be buried away from his uniform so that God will see his face, or the gentleman stricken by the beauty of the unnamed messenger, his words draw your ears and demand your attention.  Add to that Pug’s voice which is composed of a unique nasal resonance and a strangely affecting timbre, and you have a combination of lyrics and vocals that are impossible to ignore.

In past years (last year especially) I’ve had trouble deciding on the album to place in this #1 spot.  This time it was easy.  I look forward to seeing where his career goes from here.

Joe Pug: How Good You Are (Buy Album)

2010 Americana Music Award Nominees: Best New/Emerging Artist

Posted in Americana Music Awards 2010, Corb Lund, Hayes Carll, Joe Pug, Ryan Bingham, Sarah Jarosz on September 3, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Today, we take a look the nominees for what I consider to be the most confusing category… Best New/Emerging Artist. Last year’s award was won by Justin Townes Earle in his second year of being nominated (New Artist nominee two years in a row?). One of this year’s nominees actually won Best Song last year, a year in which he was NOT nominated for New/Emerging Artist.

Even though the nominating criteria seems to be a bit nebulous, the assembled nominees are all worthy of some sort of recognition.

Sarah Jarosz burst onto the scene last year as an 18-year-old acoustic wunderkind with her debut album Song Up In Her Head. At the time of it’s release, Jarosz had just graduated from high school. Still… artists such as Chris Thile, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Jerry Douglas, and others thought enough of her to appear in guest roles on the album. Most of the songs are Jarosz originals that merge traditional styles with a modern sensibility. Well chosen covers of Tom Waits (“Come On Up to the House”) and The Decemberists (“Shankhill Butchers”) show the diversity of influences that go into making a child prodigy.

Sarah Jarosz: Come On Up to the House (Buy Album)

To say Ryan Bingham emerged in the past year is a bit of an understatement. In 2009, Bingham released his second studio album Roadhouse Sun. It was another fine mix of rustic Texas roots rock from the former rodeo rider and was well received in Americana Circles. Bingham really busted out this year, however, due to his work on the soundtrack for the movie Crazy Heart. His song, “The Weary Kind,” earned him an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. He may now have the highest profile of any Americana artist in recent history. Now, in addition to this nomination, he’s nominated for Song of the Year and Artist of the Year at the AMA’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if he swept all three. This track is from Roadhouse Sun.

Ryan Bingham: Dylan’s Hard Rain (Buy Album)

This one is the real puzzler. Not because Hayes Carll isn’t a great artist. He is. It’s more because Carll is hardly what I would consider a New or Emerging artist. He released his third album in 2008, has had two albums reach #1 on the Americana Airplay Chart, and won Song of the Year at last year’s AMA’s for “She Left Me For Jesus.” Carll is another in a long line of Texas storytellers and is one of my favorite artists working today. I just don’t see how he can be a nominee in this category this year. Hayes Carll emerged a long time ago.

Hayes Carll: Girl Downtown (Buy Album)

I’m not a songwriter. I can’t attest to this myself. But I imagine Joe Pug to be the kind of songwriter that makes other songwriters (even the really good ones) jealous. Pug’s full length debut, Messenger, is one of those albums that really jumped out and grabbed me by the throat this past year. In my concert review of Pug’s performance at the Bijou Theatre in May, I compared him to an early Bob Dylan… an artist whose lyrics are so strong, he doesn’t need to rely on musical wizardry to draw the ear. His understated production and idiosyncratic voice really help Joe Pug stand out.

Joe Pug: Messenger (Buy Album)

Of the five nominees in this category, Corb Lund has probably been at this the longest. Lund was playing in punk bands in his native Alberta, Canada in the late 1980’s before Sarah Jarosz was even born. His 2009 album Losin’ Lately Gambler is his sixth solo recording and his first with U.S. based New West Records. With it, the five-time winner of the Canadian Country Music Association’s Roots Artist of the Year Award (He’s also a Juno Award Winner) is starting to make some noise here in the states. It’s about time we paid attention.

There isn’t much need for analysis here. Bingham is the likely run-away winner. Nobody… new artist or not… has had a higher profile than him in the past year. It’s not even close. If I was just picking a favorite, it would be Joe Pug. He’s probably a long shot at best.
My prediction: Ryan Bingham
My vote (If I had one): Joe Pug

Concert Review: Joe Pug & Josh Ritter

Posted in Joe Pug, Josh Ritter on May 18, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

This picture of Josh Ritter was not taken Friday night in Knoxville… but it just as easily could have been. You see that expression on Ritter’s face? The one full of energy, emotion, and sheer exuberance? It’s a look he wore through most of his set Friday night at the Bijou Theatre.

I’ll get to Ritter’s set in a bit, but I first need to tell you about the captivating opening set turned in by Chicago singer/songwriter Joe Pug. Pug is an artist I’ve seen getting lots of recognition around the blogosphere for some time now, but I never really took the time to explore his music until I found out he was coming to town. Once I did, I started listening to… and immediately fell in love with… his new album Messenger. His literate songwriting and sparse arrangements combined to make the kind of record that demands your full attention. Joe Pug does not make background music.
For his set Friday night, Pug did his entire performance in a solo acoustic fashion… just vocals, guitar, and harmonica. In this setting, Pug comes off as a pre-plugged-in Bob Dylan, relying on the power of his words rather than the complexity of his performance to enthrall the crowd. It seemed to work as the crowd met each of his tunes with ample applause and remained deathly silent during his actual performances. Hearing Pug’s songs in the wonderful space that is the Bijou Theatre only solidified my respect for him as an artist and served as a perfect lead in for what was to come.
After his set, I met Pug at his merch table and picked up a copy of his debut EP Nation of Heat. Like his live set, Heat is a fully acoustic experience, and I’d like to share one of the tracks from it with you here.
Joe Pug: Hymn 35 (Buy Album)
Now… Josh Ritter. I’ve had opportunities to see him perform in the past, but horrific weather and other events have always conspired to keep me from catching his show. That’s one reason I was so excited for Friday night’s show. The other reason is that Ritter is simply one of the most phenomenally talented songwriters working today in any genre.
He made that immediately apparent by kicking off the show with the the travelogue “Southern Pacifica” from his new album So Runs the World Away. Ritter and his band created beautiful soundscapes as each song led the audience on some new adventure. Whether visiting the Western frontier in “Southern Pacifica,” the Arctic Circle in “Another New World,” or Ritter’s own personal dreamscape in “Change of Time,” the audience was transported along for the ride.
The amazing thing about the night, though, was that Ritter seemed to be enjoying the voyage as much as, if not more than, any of the 700 or so patrons who had bought tickets for the journey. Ritter could hardly contain his energies and enthusiasm on the more upbeat numbers. Fan favorites such as “Rumours,” “To the Dogs or Whoever,” and “Wolves” all found him bouncing around the stage and almost laughing as he delivered some of the lyrics. You could even pick up a smile here and there as Ritter gave readings of two of his darker songs… the tragic love story of “The Curse” and the multiple-murder ballad “Folk Bloodbath.” In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artist smile as much during a show as I did Friday night.
Ritter’s joy filled every aspect of his set and led to one memorable evening. I don’t think I stopped smiling myself until well after the show was over.
This is a live track from Ritter’s Live at the Record Exchange EP that came out a few years ago. It’s a solo track without the band, but I think it still gives a good feel of the energy he can bring to a performance.
Josh Ritter: Wolves (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Joe Pug

Posted in Joe Pug on April 24, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Yesterday, I posted my review of Josh Ritter’s upcoming new album So Runs the World Away. Josh will be in Knoxville May 14th to play the Bijou Theater… and he’ll be bringing Joe Pug with him.

I’m just a little late to the party on Joe (he’s been mentioned all over the blog world), but his new album Messenger has been heavy on my playlist lately. I can’t wait to hear his opening set for Josh’s show. As a special added bonus, Joe Pug will play the WDVX Blue Plate Special at noon on the 14th as well. Here’s a song from his new album recorded at WNRN in Charlottesville.