Joe Pug

We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club, and a lot of it’s too good to ignore. In Playlisted, we spotlight new music that’s slightly off the beaten path.

Album: The Great Despiser by Joe Pug (out now on Lightning Rod)

Press play if you like: John Prine, Josh Ritter, Richard Buckner, plaintive folk songs enhanced with harmonica and mandolin, literate regret

Some background: Joe Pug dabbled in playwriting and carpentry before circling back to his boyhood love of music, though his songs continue to display his knack for language and construction. Pug first moved to Chicago to make a go of it as a singer-songwriter, and has since moved to Austin, following a musical and career progression that’s evident on his latest album, which is a step up from the twangy acoustic folk-pop of his 2010 record, Messenger. The Great Despiser is fuller-sounding and more energetic, helped along by guest vocals by Craig Finn on the anthemic title track, sputtering electric-guitar textures on the sorrowful “Silver Harps And Violins,” and the feisty defiance of songs like “Stronger Than The World.” At times, the album recalls the country-leaning side of ’90s college-rock—it makes sense that Pug shares a label with Jason Isbell and Jason McMurtry—and while Pug’s songs can get pretty despairing at times, he justifies it in his own lyrics, singing, “From deep, dark wells comes pure, clean water.”

Try this: The Great Despiser opens with the moody, pretty “Hymn #76,” which starts out stark, then adds one instrument at a time, using plucked string instruments the way some musicians use a symphony orchestra, to create a dreamy atmosphere behind Pug’s at-times-terrifying depiction of lack.

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