Steve Gunn’s Time Off is like a mixed drink, maybe a scotch and soda, on the front porch after a long day at work. Crisp fall air, alcohol warming the belly, and a stupid smirk on your face as the stoned-out acoustic grooves wash over you. I say stoned-out, but I’m not sure if Steve Gunn was actually high when he wrote and recorded these songs. That’s a presumption I should be careful throwing around, but think of albums like The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, Fairport Convention’s Liege And Lief, and even Red Red Meat’s Bunny Gets Paid. These weren’t just strumming exercises for the campfire collective. No, these were headier fare that elicited both the breezy scope of simple acoustic songs, yet underneath there was something happening you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Time Off is breezy, smooth, and at times strikingly complex, like a fine scotch.
Gunn played with Kurt Vile’s Violators and there’s certainly that “lazy smile” vibe in these songs, especially in album opener “Water Wheel”. Gunn’s voice is a cross between Nick Drake and Ben Ottwell of Gomez; hefty and full, yet still calming and easy going. Tim Rutilli of Red Red Meat can also be heard in Gunn’s wobbly vocal delivery. “Water Wheel” is a good place to start with this record as its one you can fall right into and want nothing more than to stop what you’re doing and take the trip with Gunn and his fluid guitar. Like Vile, Steve Gunn likes to take his time getting to wherever he’s going. They say the trip is more important than the destination, and Gunn definitely likes to take his time getting to any sort of conclusion. This is to our benefit. “Lurker” is another light and easy acoustic-driven track, opening up with some great 12-string guitar before the song gets its walking shoes on and takes us on another hike through some groovy acoustical brush. Think Jimmy Page’s excellent acoustic work on Houses of the Holy and that would give you a good idea of the territory we’re dealing with here.
Steve Gunn is more than proficient on the 6 and 12-string guitar, both electric and acoustic. He has a bluesy feel to his solos, yet you can tell he’s been influenced by more than the usual suspects. “Street Keeper” and “New Decline” bring Richard Thompson’s more esoteric style of playing to mind, with a hint of slide guitar thrown in to break up the maudlin. “Old Strange” brings to mind Nels Cline work; specifically his beautifully dense and challenging work on his mostly acoustical Coward album. “Trailways Ramble” is the 8 minute closer that acts as an acoustical mantra, repeating itself over and over again until you feel you’ve transcended space and time.
Time Off was an album that just sort of snuck up on me. It starts out as a wonderfully breezy acoustic record that sounds well made, by a guy that seems to know his way around a fret board. But spend a little more time with Steve Gunn’s excellent new release and deeper emotions reveal themselves. Hidden truths and worldlier intentions arise song after song. Scotch and soda optional.
8.7 out of 10