Joe Pug

There’s been a fair amount of turmoil in my life of late: relocation from The Big Northeastern City to The Little Southern City, new job, first house, first child—basically we’ve inadvertently fit all of the major milestones of adulthood into about a 12-month span. It’s got me a little out of sorts, which may explain why I’ve gravitated more than normal toward singer-songwriters. Surely I’m softening in my mid-30s, but there’s just something about an acoustic guitar and a single voice that brings focus to my overactive mind. Joe Pug’s voice and guitar have a particular resonance in this regard. Pug is a Chicago carpenter by day and a troubadour by night. He possesses the eyes, mop, and even a hint of the vocal cords of a young Bob Dylan. More importantly, he possesses the strumming fingers and lush songbook of an all-American folk singer. In Pug’s hard plucking, exaggerated choruses, and lyrical vignettes you can draw a pretty straight line from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen to Steve Earle to Josh Ritter. Like all of them, Pug is a populist at heart, a singer who can’t help but talk about all of us when he sings about himself and can’t help but sing about himself when he’s talking about all of us. I’m a sucker for a good line and this one from “Hymn #101” is one of my favorites right now: “I’ve come to meet the sheriff and his posse/ to offer him the broad side of my jaw/ I’ve come here to get broke/ and maybe bum a smoke/ we’ll go drinkin’ two towns over after all.” It could just be a comic-tragic put-on and you probably have to feel some turmoil yourself to truly appreciate it, but “Hymn #101” is full of lines that will fill you with both heartbreak and euphoria. It’s good to be reminded that that’s why we listen to music in the first place.