Release Date: Jan 18, 2019
Record label: Matador
Annabel Mehran's black-and-white cover photo for Steve Gunn's The Unseen Inbetween is a portrait of the guitarist and songwriter seemingly on the move. It evokes those found on early- to mid-'60s recordings by Bob Dylan, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Jackson C. Frank, Bert Jansch, and others. Gunn has shifted his focus considerably.
Steve Gunn reflects with a sense of self-vigilance in The Unseen in Between. It's a familiar notion for the Pennslyvania singer-songwriter, a roots-rock traditionalist whose intricate guitar playing speaks with such authority that it overshadows his personal thoughts. His technical prowess has placed him in the same category as other proficient songwriters like Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile, all of which share a kinship as both friends and collaborators, even if he hasn't managed to achieve the same visibility as his peers.
There's a danger with Steve Gunn that he might slip straight into the "great American songwriters" category, beloved by record-buying retirees, without ever having his day in the sun with the younger generation. The artist's signing to Matador for previous album Eyes On The Lines certainly helped, but he hasn't garnered the same audience as the majority of their other recent acquisitions. Instead he's gone on to produce for Michael Chapman and put out another beautiful but underheard Gunn-Truscinski duo album, and has brought those experiences into his new album The Unseen In Between, in which he's managed to further finesse his already finely manicured sound.
Steve Gunn is indie rock's best kept secret. Across three studio albums— and now a fourth, with his latest, The Unseen In Between— Gunn has resuscitated stylistic elements of guitar playing in a similar vein of J.J. Cale, Jim O'Rourke circa Bad Timing, and a little Jerry Garcia. The latter isn't so much schlepped on Gunn's body of work as it is a sincere and audacious truth.
"Stonehurst Cowboy" sounds like a new kind of song for Steve Gunn. A gifted guitarist who happens to be developing into an even more gifted songwriter, the Philly-born, Brooklyn-based musician has written often about motion and travel: the life of the observer rather than the participant, viewing the world through the windshield. But "Stonehurst Cowboy," an early beauty from Gunn's The Unseen in Between, is more about the destination than the journey, and that destination is his late father's former neighborhood in West Philadelphia.
With the majority of tracks clocking in at around five minutes, a major feature of Steve Gunn's fourth album is its enduringly gentle pace. Using a mid-tempo rhythm section and heady production as cornerstones to his intricate guitar work, he opts to take it easy this time around, with a breadth of instruments gradually falling in line to build a subtle sonic palette for each track. Take 'New Moon' - a dancing upright bass and shimmering guitar chords mark the track's opening, but as the song develops harmonicas and strings gently seep in to create a wistful atmosphere.
Over the last several albums, Steve Gunn has transformed himself from a guitar slinger to a more multifaceted singer, musician and songwriter. The Unseen in Between, his latest album, continues that evolution with his strongest set of songs yet. The guitar work remains effortless and radiant, but it is no longer the dominant thing. Instead the songs, bolstered by strings and vocal harmonies, take precedence.
Steve Gunn has released something like 14 albums since 2007, and 2019 sees the release of his 15th, 'The Unseen in Between'. At times he feels like the musical equivalent of a bus. Don't worry if you miss one, as they'll be another one, or two, coming soon. As with previous releases 'The Unseen in Between' showcases Gunn's lilting vocals against dextrous guitar work.
Steve Gunn sometimes gets dubbed a "guitar hero" as if he were some kind of classic-rock throwback, but he's anything but. As a solo artist and with a variety of collaborators, including fellow Pennsylvania native Kurt Vile, he operates well outside a fixed musical zip code. He has flirted with everything from acoustic ballads to psychedelic freak-outs and touched on Celtic drone, Eastern ragas and field recordings with a perpetual student's zeal.