Steve Gunn has proven to be far more than just a guitarist. He was part of Kurt Vile and the Violators for years before stepping out on his own. His style is influenced and inspired by artists like Michael Chapman, La Monte Young, John Fahey, and Indian music. He’s an ethereal player and makes music that’s basked in spiritualism. His playing is cyclical; it moves in patterns and shapes with Eastern Indian repetition, while still retaining the jangly vibes of 70s singer-songwriters.
On his latest album, the breezy The Unseen In Between, Gunn is at his most accessible. He seems to be taking some cues from former bandmate Kurt Vile. Vile has mastered the art of pop perfectionism without any confining rules. This is Steve Gunn’s most direct rock and roll record.
Album opener “New Moon” has a bluesy flavor to it, like Ry Cooder coalescing with Cat Stevens at Ocean Way Studios in 1975. Gunn’s voice is a pleasant one. It floats above the music like a ghost humming along to the melody. “Vagabond” sounds a little Dire Straits and a little early Wilco. Driving rhythm and tasteful background vocals gives this track a real classic feel.
Of course Gunn’s guitar playing is an essential flavor here. No matter how accessible or pop-oriented the song may be, the guitars are always the true star here. Gunn is a modern day guitar hero.
Elsewhere, “Stonehurst Cowboy” is a gritty, acoustic-plucked track that brings to mind John Fahey and even bits of English guitarist Roy Harper. “New Familar” is an Eastern-flavored piece that feels transcendent in its repetition and light percussion. It brings to mind Gunn’s 2013 album Time Off and that album’s opener “Water Wheel”. Album closer “Paranoid” is a beautiful track, ornamented by piano and a big early-70s singer/songwriter vibe. Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, and Jackson Browne come to mind, with Gunn’s own twist on the pop songwriter sound.
The Unseen In Between moves Steve Gunn’s place in line further up as one of America’s premier songwriters. He continues to move his playing and craft forward, while creating catchy songs that fans of both John Fahey and Neil Young could agree on and would blast thru their speakers on a Saturday night.
7.9 out of 10