by Craig Howieson
Other You is a hard won celebration of grounded mysticism and, quite simply, majestic songwriting
It is almost harvest time. The long days of summer stretch and yawn among the echoes of the ever earlier setting sun. There is a time of toil coming before celebration and rest. Then follows darkness and slumber. Only for the cycle to repeat again.
The music of Brooklyn based singer-songwriter, Steve Gunn, has always felt rooted in the earth. The dedication with which he devotes himself to his craft is tethered to something far greater than the intricate sum of its parts, and a grounded mysticism is at play in his songs; tracks are born from the seasons not informed by them, and they invite you to give yourself over to them, so they can reward you with their meaning.
Gunn has been plying his trade as songwriter, guitar slinger and ‘go to’ collaborator for close to 15 years, and, with each step, he has been scattering the seeds that have ultimately led to his latest record, Other You. For here we find him the closest he has come to stitching together the disparate ends of his many talents. Straightforward rock and loose psych jams hold equal measure, and, more than ever, Gunn’s voice and ear for melody allow the record to drift away from you and return like a welcome friend.
Untying the mooring and jettisoning the sandbags, Other You carries you in an upward swell above golden fields ablaze in transitioning sun – before gently bumping back to earth – thankful for the ‘precious metal memories’ you have been able to excavate. There is a magical moment in the verse of Circuit Rider where Gunn’s voice and guitar trip, shimmy and dance around the melody until it is impossible to pick which has the lead, and one would be nothing without the other. It is more than just a neat trick: it’s something that only a lifelong love of music and songwriting could lead to. And as he sings, ‘They are only calling out your name / You don’t have to answer,’ there is little that could distract you away from what you are hearing.
Gunn may have an indifference to formulaic structures, but he possesses an acute awareness of how each form and style works its way into his own creations. On the six minute bass heavy groove of Protection, above the faintest use of wah wah is ‘Calling for protection / and a clear sense of direction.’ But the hazy ecstasy of the track makes you feel a lot more comfortable about whatever direction you, yourself, may be heading.
Other You never gets a chance to stagnate, as Gunn is well aware of when to loosen the reins. Although this is undoubtedly his record, it is all hands to the field in its approach to contributors as Julianna Barwick, Mary Lattimore, and Bill MacKay, to name but a few, who all lend their talents to his bountiful crop of dust bowl Americana.
Gunn’s sixth studio release is a hard won celebration – a majestic set of songs from a uniquely talented artist who is reaping the rewards of a studious career. It is now time for rest as these songs are unleashed into the world, and we can but hope that Gunn is set to repeat the cycle again.
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