No matter the angle from which you perceive Steve Gunn’s musical blossoming, his prolific output or his sprawling creative muses, it’s likely you’re going to find something profound about his ninth studio album, Way Out Weather. Hypnotic guitar layering aside, virtuosic understanding of tone and timbre forgotten, Gunn’s newest expansion of his aural minefield is ripe with explosive pockets of brilliance that ought to finally expose him to a wider audience. A good reason for that blossoming is evidenced in the all-encompassing nature of Way Out Weather.
The prospect of extensive jamming is likely to spark the fear in many a music fan’s heart. In genres like jazz, improvisation is a given, with the players’ ears trained in listening to collaborators in an act of spontaneous creation. Rock musicians, on the other hand, raised on the rigid structures derived from the Blues, often wound up in tedious twelve-bar dead-ends when veering off script to indulge in outsized slices of noodling.
Steve Gunn continues his drift from the avant-garde world into popular music with another folk-tinged, guitar-worshiping set of tunes here, blending the long and varied history of hypnotic guitar into a perfectly pensive collection. John Fahey and crew's deconstructed blues, the burnt indulgence of vintage California psych and folk, the jazz-chord-inflected melancholy of Nick Drake, and plenty more are sprinkled into this warm and homespun batch of travel tunes. .
Weather’s a conversation topic that brings people together across the globe desperate for some way to kill an awkward silence. Yet each time, the conversation can take a different direction. Way Out Weather was inspired by this versatile bit of dialogue, and appropriately it’s familiar (on first listen) and yet articulates itself quite uniquely with each replay.
It’s been a good year for the friends of Kurt Vile. Adam Granduciel’s latest album as the War on Drugs is one of the year’s standouts, and now Steve Gunn, formerly one of Vile’s Violators, has released something very nearly as good. Where War on Drugs play cosmic MOR, Gunn goes for a kind of cosmic Americana. The melodies seemed soaked in a timeless well of American music: the album feels both new and familiar at the same time, every song a clever layering of Gunn’s guitars – acoustic, electric, steel, and assorted effects pedals, but all separated clearly, so there’s no hint of sonic mush.
Say what you will about the hyper-speed of modern life—it doesn’t matter to Steve Gunn. He plays his guitar with a traditional precision, his eyes gazing at the neck, his fingers moving limberly around the frets, a thumb pick doing the most economical work. He’s austere as someone with no need to go anywhere anytime soon. His songs stretch and loom like a dust storm.
Steve Gunn's Time Off was one of the great surprises of 2013. Not because it showcased his already considerable skills as a guitarist, but because he discovered his strength as a songwriter too. Way Out Weather, written during his global travels over the last year, is ambitious. Its musical architecture is more focused yet its production is more spacious.
Steve Gunn's newest album is a seamless continuation of his excellent full-band debut from 2013. Meditative and mellow, the songs float along on soft waves of intricate, hypnotic guitar lines and the Brooklyn singer/songwriter's low, gently exhaled lyrics. There's obliqueness to the compositions: they flow in an organic, non-traditional way yet never become overtly experimental.
On the title track to Steve Gunn's superb new LP, cascading guitar and soaring lap steel roll out gently, like the tide he describes: "Waves are crashing calm and free/Slowly moves the melody." Backed by a seven-piece band, he layers his songs with instrumentation that reveals more each time, from the freeform instrumental jam of "Milly's Garden" to the extended syncopated rhythm of "Tommy's Congo." Gunn – known to fans for his masterful guitar work, and more recently for a brief stint as Kurt Vile's touring guitarist – feels like he's refined his approach from last year's word-of-mouth breakthrough Time Off. He's often thought of more as an instrumental virtuoso than a singer-songwriter, but here he excels at both. .
Steve Gunn is a special sort of virtuoso. He’s not really flashy, in-your-face or starving to completely innovate. He’s subtle about it, careful even, but one thing’s for sure: the man sounds damn cool doing it. He’s kind of like JJ Cale, but instead of his sound revolving around that Americana boogie R&B style, it lives more openly, with influences from indie rock and world music, on top of its debt to U.S.
Last year's Time Off, the first widely released solo effort from Brooklyn songwriter and guitarist Steve Gunn, was a minor revelation – a flawless blend of master finger-pickers like Robbie Basho and early 70s rock; Led Zeppelin's III reimagined as psych-folk mantra. The record's dusty, sun-faded production (think Fairport Convention and early Simon & Garfunkel) proved the perfect match for Gunn's intimate portrayals of the small-town characters inhabiting his big-city neighbourhood. Gunn's homespun jams felt lived in and well loved.