Steve Gunn – Other You (Matador) Album Review

Steve Gunn has released a steady stream of high quality guitar based albums over the last decade and his latest release, Other You, is his sixth and his best yet.

Gunn’s guitar work has won plaudits and he mixes diverse influences including Indian raga, Americana, Spanish as well as classical and folk to create a distinctive and inventive sound. The album is reminiscent of the work of Nick Drake and John Martyn with striking guitar work, cryptic lyrics and soft vocals.

There were two key collaborators for the album, co- producers Rob Schnapf and Justin Tripp. Schnapf is best known for his work with Beck, Elliott Smith, and Kurt Vile, and Tripp worked with Gunn on his earlier albums, in particular Way Out Weather which is the album that Other You is most similar to.

Both producers also play on the album. Schnapf contributes guitar, organ and synthesiser and Tripp, bass, piano, drum machine and samples.

Gunn’s large number of contributors to the album suggests a bulging address book and high credibility with his peers.  Musicians on the album include Ryan Sawyer and Jon Leland on drums, Bridget St John and Julianna Barwick on backing vocals, Bill Mackey and Jeff Parker on guitar, Ben Boyd and Jerry Borge on piano and Mary Lattimore on harp.

The album opens with the title track Other You, which glides along as the lyrics muse about looking for something, “Precious metal memories Dig them from the earth.” There is a regular click of drum sticks, solid bass line, occasional cymbals and guitars gently ringing out.

Many of the songs uses images of nature, but on Fulton Gunn create a picture of a quiet city at night. The spiraling guitar and brushed drums swing to give the sense of movement around a city. It is a short, reflective and alluring song that invites us to “listen to the silence.”

Morning River has slow with almost spoken word vocals by Gunn as he plays melodies on his acoustic guitar over an echoing drone, and steady snare beat. It is followed by Good Wind, which is a constantly surprising song. The instruments take turns to take centre stage, and are then subtly replaced by another to enhance the daydream the feelings of the lyrics, such as, “Dreams in the morning when you sit there in the sun.”

Circuit Rider has different guitar tones picked out and just when it you think it has settled into a groove the rhythm changes. Drum rolls signal changes in tempo and the lyrics ponder what will “Ease a troubled mind.”

On the Way, is full of references to nature, flowers, waves and creatures are all mentioned. The song has melodic guitar picking and a gorgeous, shimmering electric guitar solo that increases the intensity of the song’s lyrics. The lyrics provide a powerful description of the passing seasons, or just a passing day,  “Daylight burns radiant Visibility is clear Sudden change in the air today Shouldn’t fade out this time of year.”

Steve GunnIn contrast to the tracks that have preceded it, Protection is a motoric – Grateful Dead style jam. The lyrics address the challenges of trying to find a new sound, or way of playing, on an instrument,  “Drifting in the water. Play yourself into a corner. It’s a sound you won’t hear again.” There is gentle shuffle on drum and bass, and over the top there are echoing guitar lines that gradually increase in volume. Sounds swoop in and out as two different guitar tones compete with each other to pick out runs of notes over the snare based groove. It is a fascinating track.

The Painter begins with the slow pick of Spanish style guitar, before it is joined by keyboard chords and patter of drums. Gunn’s lyrics have an implied feeling of taking time, “Slowly count the days.” At times the guitar drops down and the drums drive the song forward. Throughout the track the Spanish style picking reoccurs and embellishes the music.

Reflection is a keyboard led pop ballad. It starts very quietly as Gunn’s assured vocals set the scene, “Often travel in my thoughts All around oblivion.” By the second verse a slow reverberating guitar pulse is playing over a drum shuffle and nervous drone. This is followed by trumpets rising to a siren like noise before the song returns to the slow shuffle of the drums, keys and guitar and Gunn’s calm voice.

The one instrumental on the album is Sugar Kiss and it’s the Lattimore’s harp that takes centre stage on this. The track starts with a sound like birds wings flapping. As the track progresses there are abstract drone noises that gradually build up and create a feeling of mystery. A guitar being strummed faster and louder joins the drone and harp before the sound quietens down to just the harp being quickly picked.

The final track Ever Feel That Way creates a blissed out sense of rest by using waves of keyboard, a snare drum and strummed and picked guitar. It’s a life enriching anthem for empathy and mutual care and a suitably meditative piece to end the album.

Over it’s fifty minutes this album creates it’s own world. It is a record full of luscious grooves, soft vocals, and abstract lyrics. It has musical twists and turns that invite you to listen carefully.  The lyrics are bound together by a sense of being present and aware of your own reactions as well as what is going on around you.

John Bradbury

Click here to watch the 13th Floor MusicTalk interview with Steve Gunn.

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