Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines

Musically, Steve Gunn and his collaborators approach recording together with a sensibility more in common with a jazz quartet than a rock band. They listen deeply to the tune under construction and develops themes, riffs and grooves, inviting each other to step forward or fade back to showcase each element. Likely motivated by Gunn’s singular voice, his bandmates and extended “family,” all who are productive creators in their own right, have chosen to throw in their lot with Gunn, both for the joy of their special alchemy and for the opportunity to craft a record and sound that will endure.

All of the band members are serious record collectors and on an endless search for the next overlooked gem to cherish. As a collective, they offer listeners a set of tracks that reveal their beauty and complexity over many revolutions on the turntable. They believe in the power of a “simple” song to be passed around among friends.

The new album follows the pattern of Way Out Weather, with distinctive opening and closing tracks; the tunes between offer textures and extend the larger vision. Electric guitars highlight Gunn’s effortless playing and set the stage for the songs to expand on stage, and invite you to bend your ear closer, echoing the way Gunn leans into the instrument when he performs. A propulsion of bass lines and shuffle of drums replaces the earthiness of the acoustic guitars more prominently featured on Way Out Weather.

On the surface, Gunn’s songs are often described as “road tunes.” Underneath you find an artist using text paired with images to evoke ideas rather than faithfully render them. Gunn, the storyteller, approaches each song or scene like a photographer making an image, searching for fleeting moments and chasing the morning light, carefully observing his subjects for telling details.

From the garden path to the cosmic plan, Gunn’s protagonists navigate the tension between the present moment and the dreams that guide the forward journey. The conversational, observational song lyrics might fool a casual listener into believing the songs shy away from emotion. Listen again and you hear the ache, the questions, the celebration of moments and people often passed without notice. Gunn explores the line between light and dark, morning and night in both mood and tone. With sensory details, Gunn connects to the universal — the reflections you see and the echoes you hear.

The individual tunes on Eyes on the Lines have a consistent vibrancy and punch. The band has trimmed their heavy sails and tacked into the wind, delivering songs that are generally shorter and more dense than previous releases. On a path more interstellar than interstate, Gunn and Elkington trade guitar lines, pushing each to new heights. The guitars lead the songs and illuminate the path while the rhythm section and additional players fuel the ride.

“Ancient Jules” opens Eyes on the Lines and can be understood as its homonym, ancient jewels, an ode to songwriters and players who spend a lifetime on their craft, like Michael Chapman, who appears in the song’s official video.

The tracks between the first and last feel like an extended evening porch hang among old friends as the sun sets, beers are passed around and fireflies appear. Each song conveys a feeling or attitude and pairs the guitars with character’s tales, wanderings and wonderings.

Finally “The Ark” closes the record with the hopeful reassurance that everything is fine.

In the end, Gunn has built a refuge for music fans who still believe an album can be treasured, scuffed up and worn from many listens.

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