If You Like: Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Damien Rice, Gregory Alan Isakov, Bon Iver, The Tallest Man on Earth, Bob Dylan, Elephant Revival
Joe Pug Solo
If the opening notes on Joe Pug’s new LP “Windfall” are a bit disorienting, his fans won’t likely be surprised. The Austin, TX singer songwriter has made a habit of defying expectations so the piano-driven “Bright Beginnings” and the atmospheric rumination of “Great Hosannas” are just further indication that he’s quite comfortable stepping outside of the guy-with-a-guitar trappings of the genre.
His rise has been as improbable as it has been impressive. After dropping out of college and taking on work as a carpenter in Chicago, he got his musical start by providing CDs for his fans to pass along to their friends. This led to a string of sold out shows and a record deal with Nashville indie Lightning Rod Records (Jason Isbell, Billy Joe Shaver). As he toured behind “Messenger” (2010) and The Great Despiser (2012) it was with a band that looked as much like a jazz trio as an Americana band. ”I never quite found a live band that captured what I was aiming for until I connected with Greg [Tuohey–electric guitar] and Matt [Schuessler–upright bass]. It was an arrangement that maybe didn’t make a ton of sense on paper but 10 minutes into the first rehearsal I knew this was going to be my band.” The following years would have them on the road for over four hundred shows, including stops at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and The Newport Folk Festival.
After taking himself off the road in 2013, the self-induced layoff paid dividends in spades. When Pug set up camp in Lexington KY in 2014 to record, he did so with some of the best songs he has ever written. The agenda was much simpler than previous albums. “The aim on this one was very straightforward. We wanted to capture the music just the way we play it, with minimal production. It was a very back to basics approach because ultimately that’s what I love about music, and that’s what I love about making music. I wanted to record these songs the way they were written and put them out in the world.” The result is a collection of songs that are as close as we’ve gotten to a road map to Pug’s ambitions. He has collected plenty of the requisite Dylan comparisons over his young career but on this record it’s easier to hear the sway of more contemporary influences like Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams and M.Ward.
Horse Feathers-Special Duo performance
Justin Ringle, the man behind all ten years of Horse Feathers, has the following to say about the making of this album, and the current state of his band: “I wanted to stop. I did all the touring for my fourth record – “Cynic’s New Year” – and ended the year 2012 disillusioned and defeated. I didn’t touch my guitar for months, which was the longest I had gone in about 15 years. I thought that my career in music was over and wondered if I even wanted to do it anymore. After an arduous period of self-doubt and discovery, I finally arrived at the enlightened idea that maybe it should just be a little more fun. I had grown weary of talking to people after shows who said that my last record “helped them through their divorce”. I have always been flattered by that sort of thing, but I realized what I wanted to hear was how my last record helped them “have a great weekend”. If you have heard any of my previous records you will realize that this transformation from “divorce” band to “weekend” band would be a tall order. And it was! I wouldn’t say we’ve become a “party band” overnight, but I certainly tried to change things a bit.
I enlisted friends to play with me that I trusted and had known for years. Along with longtime bandmates Nathan Crockett (strings/mandolin) and Dustin Dybvig (percusion/drums/keys), I threw Justin Power (bass/vocals) into the mix to have an honest to god rhythm section for the first time. With Lauren Vidal on cello and Brad Parsons singing harmonies, we played an impromptu show at Sasquatch and people liked it. We liked it, and the unusual feeling that I had after that show – which I think is referred to as “joy” – became something I wanted to experience again. I shared more. I stopped editing myself as much. The joy of playing live became its own reward, and I dared myself to allow that joy to shape the songwriting. In the end, I was able to let it go, and I don’t own it anymore. Which also feels like joy. That’s the way it was, and so it is with us.”