Joe Pug has been a favorite of our since he released 2008′s Nation of Heat EP. That record was a folk tour de force with acoustic tracks like Hymn 101, Hymn 35 and the title track that bulldozed you with powerful songwriting and weighty vocals. Following up that stellar EP (that was released to fans for zero dollars) is no easy task.
Messenger doesn’t have a Hymn 101 single that will set the Internets on fire, but it is an album that ends too early. It’s hard to find these types of albums – the complete bodies of work. It’s hard to find songwriters that hook me, line and sinker, on every line they write. Pug is one of these songwriters.
Exhibit A: Not So Sure
I’ve bummed expensive cigarettes.
I wrote John Steinbeck’s books.
I undressed someone’s daughter,
Then complained about her looks.
Stealing was so easy then,
I wish that it still were.
Now that I pick my own pocket,
I know that these days I’m not so sure.
Exhibit B: Bury Me Far From My Uniform
Do not bother with Congress, the rich, or with the rest.
I fought their battles in this world,
I’ll not fight for them in the next.
Do not find me justice,
Just find me a grave.
And then bury me far from my uniform,
so God might remember my face.
Restraint. That’s the word that comes to mind to describe this album. Unlike the forceful vocals on his EP, Pug has softened his tone to better suit ballads containing fragile themes that need to be handled with care. Nowhere is it better exhibited than on my favorite track, “Unsophisticated Heart.” But those passionate, almost angry vocals come back on my next favorite, “Bury Me Far From My Uniform.” It’s a tearjerker about a dead soldier that laments and begs for redemption by being buried as his true identity for his moment with God, and not just another commodity soldier casualty of war.
On yesterday’s post, a quick discussion sparked about paying for music these days. It’s hard for me to put a price tag on Joe Pug’s music. That’s how much it means to me. I’m grateful for his music and more grateful that he’s only 25 years old and just getting started. This will be one of my favorite albums of 2010.
I’m completely unbiased in writing this review, but I’d be remiss not to mention that HearYa Live Session producer, Steve Shirk, produced Messenger at his studio, Shirk Music + Sound. You can catch Joe Pug and Steve Shirk and all of HearYa shaking our asses at the HearYa and Woods Entertainment SxSW 2010 Day Party.
Video: Joe Pug – Bury Me Far From My Uniform (LaundroMatinee Session)