Steve Gunn

Way Out Weather

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AllMusic Review by

Steve Gunn's Time Off was one of the great surprises of 2013. Not because it showcased his already considerable skills as a guitarist, but because he discovered his strength as a songwriter too. Way Out Weather, written during his global travels over the last year, is ambitious. Its musical architecture is more focused yet its production is more spacious. Gunn employs a larger band here -- drummer John Truscinski, bassist/producer Justin Tripp, banjo player and soundscape artist Nathan Bowles, harpist Mary Lattimore, Rhyton's Jimy Seitang, and multi-instrumentalist/engineer Justin Meagher. Gunn has gained considerable confidence as a singer. His grainy yet airy voice sits atop this mix, fully expressive for its limited range. Songs often follow a verse-chorus-verse structure underscored by layers of repetitive, gradually shifting acoustic and electric guitar and percussion patterns, adorned by the other instrumentation selectively as well as strategically placed drones and gorgeously tailored effects that extend the songs' margins. Way Out Weather unfolds, for all of its range, holistically. The title track emerges tentatively from skeletal lap steel and acoustic guitars with a sparse, reverbed upright piano toward a gradually revealing lyrical and musical landscape as Americana, droning blues, and psych-drenched folk (think David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name) commingle and converse. Its emergent lyric examines drive-by glimpses of ocean vistas, jagged coastlines, and bleached landscapes with the awareness that while seemingly eternal, they are always in flux. The droning organ that introduces the twinned electric guitar vamp on "Milly's Garden" is sun-drenched, shuffling, windswept. Its musical aspect asserts a blurred terrain where roots rock, blues, and country meet. They carry a bright melody that reveals a dark, tragic lyric. As it unfolds, the music betrays traces and influences of the early-'70s Grateful Dead and the Byrds -- circa Untitled. It is easily the most beautiful song Gunn's ever written. "Shadow Bros," the excellent back-porch waltz that follows, is framed by banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, harp, and old-timey vocal harmonies; its use of reverb gives more dimension to the poetic, metaphysical narrative in the lyric. The spacy psych impressionism of "Fiction" is the set's first hard proof of an evolving direction, followed by the interlocking rhythms in the acoustic-electric rocker "Drifter" and the shimmering, hushed instrumental interlude that is "Atmosphere." Closer "Tommy's Congo" contains brooding, trance-like reverbed and layered percussion driving a steamy, minor-key Junior Kimbrough-esque blues groove voiced with Malian-style guitars, background bass, and synth drones. It's a knockout six-minute jam that suggests what Robert Plant might sound like if he were backed by Lobi Traoré and Francis Bebey. Way Out Weather ends in a very different place than it began, but Gunn's wide-angle musical vision possesses the acumen necessary to encompass it. His musical language has evolved into a sound that is not only ambitious, but instantly recognizable.

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