steve gunnSteve 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

About the Author jhubner73

This is where I drop the spat and spittle, the sentimental fat and drivel... Music and such, and maybe a word or two about a word or two. Midwest point-of-view, without all that religion and gun stuff. Intellectually unintellectual. Elitist for the pizza and beer crowd. Grab a bean bag and lounge in the basment for a while, won't you?

7 comments

  1. I don’t know if I have the terminology right, but I love that open droning string thing he does in the main acoustic phrase. Overall, it sounds like the music you might play having been left at a truck stop (I have no personal experience of that). Excellent selection!

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    1. I believe that droning effect would be from his guitar being tuned to an open tuning. Open tunings have that sound.

      On the surface it sounds pretty simple, but he’s doing some really complex and cool stuff. I was impressed with his playing, to say the least.

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      1. I’ve considered it. It does it make it handy to have an extra acoustic so you can keep on in alternate tunings. Alternate tunings are a lot of fun to mess with. But it can become overwhelming, too. There’s so many variations. Just look up Thurston Moore alternate tunings…it’s like starting over from scratch.

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  2. Oh my, this is gorgeous. I really have to get that album for my next trip to my hometown, so the train-ride can be wistful and slightly melancholic.

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