A culmination and a celebration from the indie-rock maverick guitarist. Smiles not optional. Check out some video clips, below.
BY FRED MILLS
Why so serious? Thus did a great philosopher once utter. It comes to mind now, a few minutes into the latest album from indie-rock guitarist—hold that thought; some qualifications will be applied in a sec—Steve Gunn. In addition to fronting his own combo of late, Gunn, who has collaborated with the likes of Kurt Vile, Hiss Golden Messenger and Black Twig Pickers, makes it clear from the get-go that his new album is all about the joy one gets from the groove.
Indeed, the lead track on his stunning new Eyes On the Lines (Matador), “Ancient Jules,” is easily the most joyous-sounding slice of git-tar music I’ve heard since, I dunno, take your pick: “Shake Some Action,” by the Flamin’ Groovies; or “Black and White,” the dB’s; or “Takin’ Care of Business,” BTO; or even “Sugar Magnolia” by that little ol’ hippie band from the Bay Area, what was their name? (Hold that thought, too…) The tune commences with a rippling, instantly infectious modal riff from Gunn, which is quickly answered by a fuzztone-laced lick and then in turn by yet another fretboard lead, this time in a lower register. Soon enough, they’re all riffing in tandem, spiraling off momentarily then circling back to the main theme while the rhythm section choogles along reassuringly; and the listener, assuming he or she is even remotely sentient, is up and doing a little spiraling of his/her own across the room.
You’d swear the Velvet Underground had suddenly bumped into the Grateful Dead and decided to convene for a jam session in your own personal domicile.
As a rollicking celebration of rock ‘n’ roll, Eyes On the Lines hits sweet spot after sweet spot, from the extended raveup powering “Full Moon Tide” and the swampy vibe and ethereal peels of steel guitar for “The Drop” (whose sweet, tingly melody brings to mind Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”); to the intertwining acoustic guitars of “Nature Driver” and the hypnotic drones rumbling through “Park Bench Smile.” Oh, and there’s a little something called “Conditions Wild” you might find interesting as well:
Gunn, it should be noted, has built his reputation largely on the basis of his mastery of fingerstyle guitar as pioneered by the likes of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Michael Chapman, so that “indie-rock” notation above is somewhat misleading. Too, and as suggested above, he’s cut a broad range of material to date, everything from Delta blues to free jazz to blazing psychedelia.
All that and more surface at various points on Eyes On the Lines, ultimately making the album a culmination and a celebration. Nothing but smiles from this fan.
Steve Gunn had a number of shows recently cancelled. Consult the Matador website for the rescheduled dates as they are announced. Below, watch Gunn and his band live 3/6/16 at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, followed by a clip from Paris in May.