Joe Pug: Windfall

Pug fought through some tough times to produce this optimistic, rewarding record.
Joe Pug
Lightning Rod

For just about any singer-songwriter, the limitations of voice and guitar must get a little maddening. Here you are pouring your soul into your songs, but to the outside world, you run the risk of sounding like just any other person strumming an acoustic guitar. You have your own way of singing, your own way of playing, but you still run the risk of sounding samey. If you’re like Joe Pug, you’re lucky enough to be armed with a forceful vocal style and a powerful point of view, but even Pug’s output (Windfall marks his third full album) has shown him moving from a basic singer-songwriter approach to something that takes advantage of a full band sound. He credits part of that transition to finally finding what he considers his perfect band of Greg Tuohey on electric guitar and Matt Schuessler on upright bass.

To Pug’s credit, he doesn’t jump the gun and try to fill his songs with any trickery. He’s not even going to frontload his songs with the catchiest bits. The songs on Windfall are content to do their thing and wait for you to come to them. Album opener “Bright Beginnings” turns into one of the most gorgeous songs of Pug’s career, but it takes over two minutes to reach full flight. “Veteran Fighter” builds in a similar way as its stanzas transition into a gorgeous chorus. “Great Hosannas” builds into a sombre incantation marked by electric guitar, distant harmonica, and ominous percussion. “Burn and Shine” adopts a brisk two-step rhythm with pedal steel flavor. If you shuffle through Windfall, clicking ‘next’ after five seconds of each song just because you hear finger-picked guitar and earnest vocals, you’re going to miss out on, well, everything the album has to offer.

Windfall reportedly came out of a period when Pug was experiencing a crumbling relationship, cancelled a tour, and even considered quitting music altogether. Flashes of those troubled times appear here and there throughout the album, but overall, Windfall is remarkably optimistic. “Veteran Fighter” finds him singing “Don’t give up, it’ll get brighter / Stand your ground like a veteran fighter”. Album closer continues that vein of searching for better things, although it does add a dash of realism: “If it’s not around this corner it’s around the next / If it’s not beyond this river it’s beyond the next / And if still it can’t be found / It’s probably for the best”.

Windfall still finds Pug staking out his own part of singer-songwriter territory at the intersection of folks like Dylan, Springsteen, Isbell, Prine, Ritter, and others. There’s joy here, but it’s of a very serious sort. He’s tweaking and growing his sound, though, and his songs feel increasingly more personal. Rather than shy away from the pressures of two previous albums (and assorted EPs) full of striking, unique songs, he’s fought through the tough times to create even more.

RATING 7 / 10