John Stewart

Punch the Big Guy

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If there was justice in the music world, Punch the Big Guy would have been a huge commercial success. John Stewart took his songwriting prowess to its zenith, brought in a stellar cast of musical compatriots, and put together his finest three-quarters of an hour. His lyrics here are fired with anger, righteous indignation, political awareness, compassion, and, ultimately, love. The arrangements, built around Stewart's fingerpicked electric guitar, are mesmerizing, and his muscular baritone provides the perfect delivery van for sharing these observations, memories, questions, and vows. One cannot come away from this music unaffected. On "Midnight of the World," Stewart asks, "Will you always be my girl?" while simultaneously pondering the last days of the world. "Runaway Train" later became a number one country hit for Rosanne Cash, who contributes eerie vocal harmonies to "Price of the Fire" and "Angels With Guns." Throughout, however, Stewart expresses the sense of faith and hope outlined in "Ticket to the Stars": "There are forces to guide you/spirits beside you/Rivers to ride you home to the stars." John Stewart achieves a genuine merger of the personal, the spiritual, and the political on Punch the Big Guy and wraps it all up in a darkly colored but accessible package. The mix of ballads and upbeat rockers holds the attention of even a casual listener, but for those who invest a little of themselves in the depth of its songs, this album offers a chest full of rare musical treasure.

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