Over the last ten or so years, Steve Gunn has managed something that eludes most musicians. As he’s slowly transformed his craft from open string Fahey worship to a more tightly-crafted, song-oriented approach that is more akin to 60s troubadours like Fred Neil or a less ornate Tim Buckley, he has also been able to still stay close to his roots in the more outré end of the spectrum, where he cut his teeth as a critical component of third eye drone masters GHQ via his more free playing with drummer John Truscinski.
But let’s focus on the newest record from Gunn, The Unseen In Between, because he and his band certainly did. With long-time guitarist James Elkington and two recent NYC recruits on rhythm section, Gunn ran through the first three songs from the record and ended up playing all but two before the show ended. There are real strengths to this record, and while some have bemoaned a more careful approach to his records of late, “Vagabond” and “New Familiar” (a tongue-in-cheek reference back to 2013’s “Old Strange”) have a certain zip in their stride and steady confidence that’s undeniable.
“Wildwood” would find the band rolling up their sleeves and blasting out of the semi-mildly mannered recorded version into a frenzy of string-bending and give/take between Gunn and Elkington. Another strong performance from Gunn.
Gunn originally hails from Philly, as do his friends who are supporting this tour. Now residing on the opposite coast, Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird are part of the particularly fruitful scene that kicked off in Philly in the late 90s, with master and still dearly missed Jack Rose as its unofficial center. Baird and Lattimore have been busy in many bands and collaborations but aside from the one-off live score to cult Czech film Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders, I think that last year’s Ghost Forests is their first true collaboration.
And what a thing of beauty it is. Baird’s hauntingly angelic vocals float over the top of the two stringed instruments, Lattimore gracefully plucking her harp while Baird alternated between acoustic and electric guitar. The juxtaposition between the precisely delicate harp notes and Baird’s gauzy smear of electric guitar via the tremolo bar made for a fixating listen.