For most of the last decade and a half, guitarist Steve Gunn has been quietly going about his business as a musician's musician. In addition to collaborating with Meg Baird, the Magik Markers, and Kurt Vile, he has been an active recording artist as a member of GHQ, the Gunn Truscinski Duo, and in his low-key way, as a solo artist. Time Off is his first trio recording under his own name. Gunn is a guitarist of wide interests and skillful versatility, whether it be early blues traditions like Piedmont or Delta styles, American Primitive, Indian music, psych, Gnawan, etc. He seeks out what inspires him then masters it. This set was reportedly cut in the breaks he had between other projects. Its six songs (clocking it at nearly 40 minutes) ranging from five to nearly nine minutes, are performed with Truscinski on drums and bassist Justin Tripp. Those seeking the fiery interplay of GHQ will be surprised by the vibe here. Gunn employs his layered acoustic guitars primarily, with electric guitars woven in sporadically. He also sings on all but one track. This band is tight. They weave Americana, folk, blues, psych, improvisation, drone, and more into Time Off. The 12-string in "Water Wheel" opens with a gorgeous vamp that changes shapes effortlessly in spite of its repetition, and becomes an intricate through-flowing jam. The brief electric guitar solo briefly carries it in another direction only to return like a shapeshifter. Check the group interplay on the darkly tinged psych folk of "Lurker," which is simultaneously locked yet open to possibility. The guitar vamp that becomes the body of "Street Keeper" suggests the Grateful Dead's "Cassidy," though Gunn opens it up with jazz chord voicings and a lilting bridge; recording engineer Jason Meagher's pulsing flute moves it further afield. "New Decline" is a slide guitar psych blues that offers an extended electric guitar break and deep choogling boogie by the rhythm section. Tom-toms and fingerpicked guitars introduce "Old Strange." The guitar comes out of the Delta blues, but Helena Espvall's cello turns that on its head, and it becomes a spooky, infectious dark groove that suggests Led Zeppelin's more sinister acoustic moments. The nearly nine-minute closer, "Trailways Ramble," is the only instrumental; it's a sprawling, fluid, densely detailed workout with 12-string and slide guitars, cello, and that unshakeable rhythm section creating 21st century trance music. Time Off contains great songs. It's warm, spacious, sophisticated, and elastic. The only complaint is that Gunn's singing isn't more present in the mix, but even so, it adds to the album's sense of mystery. Gunn is at a creative peak here; can’t wait for more.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek