Because Songs Matter

JOE PUG: MESSENGER

Pug

Joe Pug is infuriatingly good.

Let me clarify. If you’re a fellow songwriter, Joe Pug is infuriatingly good. Gifted with razor-sharp wit, vivid, eloquent lyricism and a voice that echoes the younger incarnations of Prine and Dylan, Joe Pug makes other songwriters – most of whom will spend their entire lives trying to write songs half as good as Pug’s – furious. If you’re somebody who simply listens to and enjoys music, there’s nothing infuriating about Pug; he’s just a Godsend.

After the staggering brilliance of Pug’s debut EP, Nation of Heat, his first full-length LP, Messenger, could have been a colossal letdown, simply because Pug set expectations so high. It is anything but. Messenger is a collection of ten literate, poetic gems, brimming over with wit, wisdom and imagery. At 25 years old, Pug has filled his first two releases with a lifetime’s worth of brilliance, setting the bar incredibly high for himself, and damn near unreachably high for any other songwriter of his generation. He is, as they say, the Real Deal.

Take for instance the coming-of-age anthem “Not So Sure.” Pug casually tosses off the admission that he “undressed somebody’s daughter, then complained about her looks,” which seems simple enough until you stop to consider that he has, in less than ten words, captured everything worth saying about the mercurial and dismissive nature of young romance. That’s something of a feat for anyone else. For Pug, it is one of dozens of lines that distill the countless nuances of life down to simple, undeniable truths. To say this is not an easy task for a writer is like saying a 102 MPH fastball is moving “pretty fast.”

If there is one knock on Messenger, and even this is a bit of a reach, it is that the arrangements are very much “stock” roots music. The pedal steel comes in exactly when you think it will, and the accompanying electric guitar plays the lick you expect it to. For anyone else, it would just be a matter of a clean arrangement but for a songwriter of Pug’s considerable gifts, it seems something of a disappointment.

Nitpicking notwithstanding, Pug’s album will find its way to numerous Best of 2010 lists as well as Essential Listening lists, and rightfully so. Soon, he’ll have only himself to compete with.

Joe Pug – “Not So Sure” (from Messenger)

Joe Pug – “The Door Is Always Open” (from Messenger)

7 Comments

  1. ScottZeagle ScottZeagle
    February 18, 2010    

    I still prefer the raw emotion of Nation of Heat, and Joe without a band, but this is a great album none the less.

    I would highly recommend that you see joe Pug live. When he sits down with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, it is pure magic.

  2. February 18, 2010    

    He’s on my list to catch at SxSW.

  3. Brandon Brandon
    February 18, 2010    

    Man I was hoping someone was gonna make a post about Joes album (Kudos Kasey). Now I am patiently waiting for the new DBT album and love what I heard so far, but this is hands down the best album Ive heard this year. Its the same with this album that IV was with Tims good luck to everyone else trying to knock this out of the slot #1. Heres hoping I also get a chance to see Joe performing live very very soon..Cheers

  4. Eli Eli
    February 18, 2010    

    this is what I said, only written a lot better…..damn

  5. Cliff England Cliff England
    February 19, 2010    

    I saw him earlier this year, at the festival where I interviewed Lucero, and he was amazing, so good that I had to pick up his cd at the show.

  6. mick mick
    February 19, 2010    

    just saw him the other night and i have to say i was pretty nonplussed by the live show. justin townes earle came on and dominated the stage afterwards.

  7. nick nick
    February 19, 2010    

    I’m looking forward to the show with JTE here next month

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