Steve Gunn’s career has been on an upward trajectory ever since he released his first full-band outing, Time Off, back in 2013. He followed that up with Way Out Weather, which gained him a lot of media attention, including mine. It was an album of dusty travelogues that toed the line between meandering and focused, and showcased Gunn’s skill as an impressive lead guitarist. I was lucky enough to meet Gunn at the 2015 Winnipeg Folk Festival, where he and his band delivered one of the most satisfying sets of the whole festival. Later that year, I also saw him perform in the basement of a London pub, his flying fingers leaving the small crowd spellbound.
But Gunn has been working hard long before he found success as a full-band act, releasing two instrumental albums as one half of the Gunn-Truscinski Duo in 2010 and 2012, along with an acoustic solo album called Boerum Palace. He’s also played with Kurt Vile as a member of the Violators, and released album-length collaborations with many rising stars of the New Americana scene, including Hiss Golden Messenger and the Black Twig Pickers.
In early June, just in time for summer road trips, he released Eyes On The Lines, an album that contains a lot of Gunn’s sonic hallmarks, but also breaks new ground. While he has always been a dexterous and melodically articulate lead guitarist, Eyes On The Lines proves that his songwriting skill is growing at a remarkable rate. It contains just the tiniest hint of pop sensibility, with his winding song structures now also conveying some catchy hooks and choruses, while the memorable and impressive licks still come fast and furious.
For this album, Gunn brought James Elkington into his seasoned touring band, so there are not one, but two incredible guitarists on this record. He also reunited with drummer John Truscinski, whose playing has a remarkable, almost preternatural, chemistry with Gunn’s. The interaction between the band members is top-notch, as evidenced by the breakdowns on “Heavy Sails” and “Night Wander.” The album is propelled by its two lead singles, “Conditions Wild” — featuring a cool watery guitar effect and an ascending solo at the end that just kills — and “Ancient Jules,” which charges forward with an energetic and catchy riff. There’s not a single weak link among the nine tracks, making for an album that I always listen to from start to finish. Due to the complexity of the instrumentation, especially the intertwining guitars, it’s also an album that really opens up over time, rewarding repeated listens.
Gunn is also showing a lot of improvement as a vocalist and lyricist, two aspects of more pop songwriting that he’s said don’t always come as naturally as writing guitar riffs. Thematically, the album talks a lot about the importance of getting lost, wandering, and being open to the unexpected.
In sum, it’s such a treat to have a front row seat to an artist whose talent is growing by leaps and bounds with each release. Now on indie stalwart Matador Records, Gunn is benefiting from the label’s marketing reach, and looks poised to continue his ascent into the highest echelons of the New Americana scene. I’m looking forward to whatever he does next (a live album would be awesome). If you have the chance to catch Steve on one of his many tours, I highly recommend it.