Joe Pug – Nation of Heat / Revisited
This is a full-band version of Joe Pug’s acclaimed 2008 debut now reimagined & performed in the spirit Mr. Pug intended. Livelier, rowdier & not with too much heady musical spice. The CD has a wonderful, stitched insert with lyrics. The 28-minute, 7-track Nation of Heat/Revisited (Drops July 22–Nation of Heat Records) isn’t long enough. Produced & arranged by Joe Pug in Maryland the songs waste no time spiking the punch…drink heavily.
“Hymn #101,” is borderline Chuck E. Weiss with lyrics powered by thudding drums & jangling guitar lines. Aggressive with amusement & a bare-knuckle melody with savvy lyrics.
Pug (vocals/bass/piano/harmonica) is a genuine storyteller in the tradition of John Hiatt. The song has its tattoos & scars in view. There are several singers who explore these lands – Otis Gibbs, Jon Dee Graham, the late John Martyn & now Joe Pug — rooted in that soil that gave rise to Steve Earle.
Joe Pug’s songs are no holds barred. The prettiness is raw, not meant to make you smile but wonder. “Nobody’s Man,” (“…now there’s splinters in my fingers, and there’s Portland cement in my lungs”). This is music from the no-kidding column. Truth be told. Burning the candle at both ends. Spit on the sidewalk. Flush twice. It’s a north-American Tom Waits crossed with the edginess & starkness of the late Warren Zevon & Canada’s Tom Wilson of Junkhouse (“Shine”).
Pug explores the subterranean modern with a dusky harmonica in “I Do My Father’s Drugs.” (“If I return with eyes half open don’t ask me where I was”). Powerful stuff disguised as a lovely tune. What was that Tom Waits once said – “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Yeah.
With “Hymn #35,” a deep & wonderful slice of John Hiatt spills from Joe Pug’s throat. Excellent lyrics & haunting melody. This may even border on the blues, literate blues. I love songs riddled with compelling production – something I began to discover with Steve Swindell’s “Fresh Blood,” from 1979. Each tune had that hard-bitten lyrical density with poetry from the urban badlands & production that swallowed you.
It takes imagination to write songs like “Call It What You Will.” Words don’t come from a textbook but from sidewalk & alley stories that are soaked in whiskey, cigars & puddles of rain. Written from fingers with callouses, blisters & split fingernails. “Nation of Heat,” has a chiseled-out melody akin to Buddy Miller’s rich & thick. Achingly beautiful.
Players: Mark Stepro & Dom Billett (drums), Phil Krohnengold (organ), Rich Hinman (pedal steel), Matthew Wright (piano), Justin Craig (electric guitars), Carl Broemel (electric guitars/pedal steel), Derry Deborja (synth), BJ Barham (pan flute), Brandon Flowers & Courtney Hartman (bgv).
Color image by: Ryan Nolan. The CD @ https://joepugmusic.com/