Release Date: Jun 18, 2013
Record label: Paradise of Bachelors
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk, Guitar Virtuoso
Brooklyn-based guitarist Steve Gunn is mostly known as an instrumentalist whose work stems from studying the fingerstyle blues ragas of players like John Fahey and Sandy Bull, as well as English folk-blues musicians like Michael Chapman and Bert Jansch. On Time Off, one of a pair of 2013 “band” releases (the other being Golden Gunn on Three Lobed), the guitarist introduces a somewhat different approach that stems from a trio of musicians including frequent collaborator/drummer John Trucsinski and electric bassist Justin Tripp. The music here has a well-heeled sprawl as Gunn introduces the guise of singer-songwriter to his long-spun sonic tales.
For most of the last decade and a half, guitarist Steve Gunn has been quietly going about his business as a musician's musician. In addition to collaborating with Meg Baird, the Magik Markers, and Kurt Vile, he has been an active recording artist as a member of GHQ, the Gunn Truscinski Duo, and in his low-key way, as a solo artist. Time Off is his first trio recording under his own name.
Over the last decade, a spate of pastiche-fiends have been mining previously dormant genres for inspiration-- and as a result, dudes like Bruce Hornsby and Nile Rodgers are now serving unexpected, late-career stints as alt-touchstones. “Jam bands,” though-- long the presumed terrain of white people in dreadlocks and homemade pants-- stay largely unsung; maybe there’s something too dopey about the contemporary scene, or something too ambitious about the virtuosity high-caliber jams require. The Grateful Dead remain the grand exception, a band that’s somehow both an embodiment of and an outlier within their field.
Even though Steve Gunn calls New York home, he sounds like a ramblin’ man. Whether on his own or in collaboration with a host of well-traveled keepers of the avant-garde, Gunn has used the last 15 years to detail the Mississippi Delta, the Appalachian Mountains, and the vast expanses of heartland in a uniquely (de)constructed American travelogue. Gunn’s catalog is marked by wisps and detours, sprawling guitar lines that draw equally on Basho and benzos, and densely woven instrumentals content to slowly wander rather than motor on straight to their destinations.
Steve Gunn has long been a part of various strains of great music. He’s might be best know for playing with Kurt Vile, but he also played with the excellent noise outfit GHQ and as the Gunn-Truscinski Duo. Those bands show his experimental twist on American Primitive, but it’s his solo records, especially standouts Boerum Palace and Too Early For the Hammer, that have made a case for Gunn as a musician with his own vital musical landscape.
While a few of Steve Gunn’s former collaborators — Magik Markers, Kurt Vile — were sweating it out in packed rock clubs at this year’s Hopscotch festival, the guitarist performed in the rose garden of the Raleigh Little Theatre at North Carolina State University. A few miles outside the festival’s downtown hub of dingy dive bars and slick outdoor stages, Gunn and the other members of his trio — bassist Justin Tripp and drummer John Truscinski — meandered through much of the material on Time Off, performing casually but intensely on an old stone pavilion in front of a backdrop of verdant oaks and a sky painted a luxuriant shade of Carolina blue. It couldn’t have been a more perfect venue.
A buddy of late guitarist Jack Rose, Steve Gunn has similar experience as an improviser, band member and gun-for-hire. Time Off presents him not only as guitar slinger, but also as a singer and songwriter. Gunn proffers the kind of simultaneously abstract and concrete melodies as contemporaries like Glenn Jones, James Blackshaw and Rose, but adds a rhythm section, lyrics and his own lightly toned vocal chords for a hypnotic atmosphere that’s almost mystical.