Joe Pug – Messenger
Lightning Rod Records 2010
[tags: folk, singer-songwriter, acoustic, alt country, 2010]
Listen while reading:
The Sharpest Crown (from Messenger) download it!
The Door Was Always Open (from Messenger)
I’m a bit late on this, but I’m sure most of you fans of folk and singer-songwriter music have heard about Joe Pug’s masterpiece Messenger by now. Nevertheless, there is no change of not featuring it here on CFM for it is nothing less than an album that surly will be defining folk in 2010 – and I think it does already and I also think that there is no way to close your eyes on it. And be sure, I know that hyped albums often come with the strange character, that the most praised music is just the music you have least interest in hearing (at least you think so before really listening to it). And with hyped I do mean hyped as used in our little world of independent folk music blogging.
When it comes to the point where I should explain what the reason is for the wide success and the numerous kind words Messenger received, I honestly can’t tell you exactly. Joe Pug is a folk guy, trying to make honest music by writing songs. He’s not a great experimenter and he doesn’t try to revolutionize music, he uses what other singer-songwriters have used ever since: guitar (lap steel and acoustic), harmonica and his voice. His song-structures can be called classic, his songs come from an honest heart and a pair of open eyes. His voice neither sounds like a male version of Joanna Newsom nor like the throaty one of The Gunshy, it sounds individually but not eccentric. Everything seems to be so normal, so familiar.
And maybe that’s the point of the whole matter – Messenger is like a cozy chimney fire, a good friend or a pleasing day of your favorite season. It got the power to warm you; it’s ready to take you by the hand when nobody’s watching and it makes you happy by just being around you. It depicts what folk music was and is known for: the eye for the little details in the big context. But I also made the experience that I had to spend some time to get acquainted with the album. The first two or three times I wasn’t listening carefully enough and the music just went by…like an interesting stranger. Later you remember him and you start thinking about him – but with the difference that you got the change to meet him again. And as soon as you internalized every facet of the record, it will not leave you anymore. Maybe that’s one important aspect in calling an album intimate.
Messenger isn’t particularly sad in its overall character, it’s not the darkest or depressed album you will hear in 2010. Tracks like The Door Was Always Open have a good drive forwards, the instrumentation, with the lively drums, the hopeful banjo melody and the playful harmonica, is miles away from a “sad bastard” sound (according to a term Smansmith over at Slowcoustic likes to use). The same applies for the title track and the last song on the album. They come with fuller sound, especially Speak Plainly, Diana which is the “hardest” tune on the record. But along these tracks there is clearly what one can call the sad bastard sound (with alt country influences, for the whole album got some alt country feeling). Disguise As Someone Else or Unsophisticated Heart or Not So Sure or The Sharpest Crown or… should serve as proves.
In combining faster and harder tracks with sad and melancholic tunes and sad amazingly told stories (How Good You Are) Joe Pug creates a much diversified album that’s held together by Joe’s knowledge of how far he can go without overstretching it. That’s the reason everything seems to sound so normal, because Messenger doesn’t need anything extravagant or shiny – it’s just what it is and this is mostly Joe Pug himself and this is what music is all about. I believe that it’s reasonable to say that Joe found his sound – even though he is only 25 of age. And I don’t mean he found a way to be distinct from others, I mean he found a way to really express feelings and thoughts in words and notes. Sure, there are many ways to do so – but Joe Pug does it just Joe Pug like. I’m not afraid to say that Messenger is another sure candidate for the Best Of 2010 list. And even though I just recently said that I found such a candidate with The Twilite Broadcasters I’m not exaggerating here. Both albums are really that great even though they are not comparable.
And it’s true that there are some political statements here and there and normally I strictly separate music and politics, but in Joe’s case I have no troubles with it – not because I share his opinion or any other opinion on the topics, but because folk music is no punk music. If Joe sings about political matters he does it just the right way a good singer-songwriter should do: with style and not just for the sake of meaningless provocation. You don’t have to agree with a good singer-songwriter, but you will listen to what he has to say, for he really tries to speak to you – he wouldn’t shout you in the face, if you disagree, he would try to listen to you too.
I think I said enough about the album and I hope that I succeeded in showing my idea of how I feel about Messenger. If you want to listen to more tracks of this amazing album, you can stream the whole thing here. Physical copies are available as a CD version which you can purchase by clicking this link. For the Mp3s head straight to Joe’s personal website or use iTunes. CFM awesomeness guarantee!