Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Pop/Rock, Guitar Virtuoso
“It's not the destination, it’s the journey” is an old cliché, but one that sounds refreshed and alive on folk-rocker Steve Gunn's Eyes on the Lines. It’s an album about travel and transition, about exploring, wandering, and letting yourself get lost. Every song happens on the way to something else, in the patches between starting out and ending up.
There’s a feeling captured by Champ Ensminger’s video for Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper’s “Pony Blues” that seems to embody Gunn’s music. The song, from the pair’s 2014 album Cantos de Lisboa, is an old blues by Charley Patton, a song that rotates on the axis of a single chord that Gunn and Cooper augment with a foggy drone. Ensmiger’s video is a parable in which a boy follows a girl, who is actually a river spirit, through the jungle and down to a river.
On his last album, 2014’s Way Out Weather, the virtuosic guitarist Steve Gunn came out of his cocoon. Long known for his insular solo guitar studies, Gunn finally emerged as a pop-oriented songwriter, with a full band in tow to bring his bold arrangements to life. Highly detailed, Way Out Weather operated like an architectural tour, guiding us from room to room and letting us admire Gunn’s nuanced guitar work, gorgeous sonic textures and atmospheric touches.
Brooklyn singer, songwriter, and guitar slinger Steve Gunn makes his Matador debut with Eyes on the Lines, a windblown set of road explorations that, despite its meandering nature, is one of his most accessible records yet. The Pennsylvania native has maintained a prolific output over the previous decade, much of it in the form of one-off projects and collaborations, but his solo releases all seem to spring from the same well of wanderlust. Expanding on the spacious sound of his excellent 2014 LP, Way Out Weather, Eyes on the Lines is more of a free-flowing rock affair, finding Gunn and his band locking into bucolic grooves that take their time to unfurl.
Brooklyn’s Steve Gunn is the Ty Segall of Americana, a prolific musician who has released 13 albums since 2007, some with like-minded strummers such as Kurt Vile and Hiss Golden Messenger, others solo records such as 2013’s acclaimed Way Out Weather. In other words, he’s the hipster-friendly guitar slinger of the moment, in the spirit of John Fahey or Robbie Basho, with a lovely sun-glazed lilt to his fluid fingersmithery. On Eyes On the Lines, he pairs his pastoral leanings with tales of uncertainty; Night Wander meanders through nocturnal roots with the repetitiveness of a raga; Conditions Wild’s boppy pace and falsetto channels the 1960s; Park Bench Smile coasts along on rolling drums and a shamanic, moonlit arrangement.
Steve Gunn's virtuosity as a guitarist has made him an in-demand hired hand both in and out of indie rock circles for over a decade, and only in recent years has he defined himself as a raga-influenced singer/songwriter. Eyes on the Lines could be called his first LP as the leader of a straight-up rock-and-roll band, but you'd never guess that from his effortless swagger. .
In music-critic speak, “meditative” has become an over-generalized term for music that has a certain kind of thoughtfulness to it. It’s the same as “introspective,” “contemplative,” and “reflective” — words that actually have very different meanings, but are now catch-alls for any rock song that’s slow-to-medium in its pacing, minimal in its chord progressions (though not in its embellishments), and rambling in its runtime. I say this not as an absolution from guilt; I’ve turned to these phrases plenty of times myself.
With 2014’s Way Out Weather, American troubadour Steve Gunn continued the great songwriter tradition of allowing your surroundings to seep into your art. No stranger to travel, the result was a record that conjured pastoral images, open vistas, rolling hills; a bucolic lifestyle brought to life through deftly plucked strings. For Gunn though, the journey continues even when the recording stops, and now two years later, he finds himself in a different environment.
Brooklyn guitarist Steve Gunn has appeared on 14 full-length albums in his nearly decade-long career, including seven of his own; he's perhaps best known for his recent work with Kurt Vile. Eyes on the Lines, Gunn's eighth release, continues to make a case for Steve's well-earned but unsung place in six-string history.The lyrics paint the impression of a man of movement and fluidity, two characteristics that aptly describe Gunn's incredible guitar work. The production on the album changes little from song to song, giving the feel that it was recorded live off the floor.
There’s a meditative quality to guitarist/singer Steve Gunn’s work here on his latest release Eyes on the Lines that lends itself to getting lost, either literally or figuratively, within the wider world. Indeed, the very first words we hear on opening track “Ancient Jules” deal with just this idea: “You were lost / On the road from a different way. ” From here, the song moves rhythmically forward while Gunn’s guitar wanders in and out of the song’s structure, embarking on extended detours that eventually find their way back to the central melodic figure that helps the song regain focus.
Why so serious? Thus did a great philosopher once utter. It comes to mind now, a few minutes into the latest album from indie-rock guitarist—hold that thought; some qualifications will be applied in a sec—Steve Gunn. In addition to fronting his own combo of late, Gunn, who has collaborated with the likes of Kurt Vile, Hiss Golden Messenger and Black Twig Pickers, makes it clear from the get-go that his new album is all about the joy one gets from the groove.
I saw Steve Gunn play a couple times in 2013 hot off the heels of Time Off, his stunning first vocal LP. Backed by drums and bass, the New York guitarist would glide coolly through the material, extending his songs with the lucid, minimalistic, Americana riffing he had shown off on earlier instrumental releases. No matter how freewheeling the music, though, Gunn kept a stolid, even stern expression and generally low profile while he played; every word seemed to come out of his mouth with the utmost care, perhaps betraying his relative inexperience singing on stage.
Steve Gunn's music is challenging to describe. Hypnotic layers of fingerpicked guitar are at the heart of and give shape to each song, while his earthy vocals and contemplative lyrics add a brooding quality. In an interview with NOW in 2014, he spoke about being spiritual, though not about anything specific, and about his music being a way to express it and also help him unwind.
Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines (Matador)Eyes on the Lines works on its own time, the songs full of motion but not end-directed. A shamble, a wander, a goal-optional meander, the tangle of guitars somersaults over itself, catching the trailing ends in the beginning again. The lyrics observe a passing stream of images with detached appreciation.
Acts usually go weird after achieving a level of success with more conventional -sounding releases. Some of the leading lights of the ongoing great American guitar hero - in the explorative sense of John Fahey and Jerry Garcia rather than the fretboard fireworks, say, Jimi Hendrix - revival have chosen to go the other way. As with fellow fretboard traveller Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn's roots are in free-range improvisation.
If you would've asked Carl and I that we'd still be writing this feature a few months ago, we would've been surprised. But we just can't help ourselves, seeing as this year has been exceptionally rich in terms of album releases. So how did we fare with our monthly "leftovers" this time around? Well ….