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Joe Pug

Messenger – 2010 (Lightning Road)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Joe Pug

Not long ago, Joe Pugliese had an epiphany before embarking on his senior year as a budding playwright at the University of North Carolina. Recognizing a deep dissatisfaction with his life, Pug (as he came to call himself) took a bold step, left school and headed for Chicago to work as a carpenter and revisit the guitar he hadn't played since well before college. Cribbing ideas from a play he'd been writing, Pug assembled a handful of songs and recorded his debut EP, "Nation of Heat," during guerilla nighttime sessions in a Chicago studio where a friend smuggled him in to to fill canceled bookings. Nation of Heat generated a big local buzz (based in part on Pug's brilliant strategy of handing out free two-song samplers to introduce himself to his future fan base), which led to sold out gigs at home and invitations to open some high profile tours for the likes of Steve Earle, Josh Ritter and M. Ward.

After the promise of the EP, Pug delivers his full length debut. It's not hard to see why critics have compared Pug to John Prine (another brilliant singer/songwriter who found his voice in Chicago) and Bob Dylan (naturally), particularly in the stripped emotional simplicity of Disguised as Someone Else, How Good You Are and Unsophisticated Heart and Pug's bitter anti-war ode, Bury Me Far (From My Uniform), has the social import that has defined Steve Earle in the latter half of his career.

But with muscular electric arrangements on Speak Plainly, Diana and the title track, and a good many of his sparsely arranged acoustic tracks, Pug shows the self-conscious swagger and observational focus of Freedy Johnston, the naked honesty of Warren Zevon and the raw emotion of Patterson Hood. With "Messenger," Joe Pug has displayed the full measure of his gifts and proved that he could be the kind of artist people talk about 30 years down the line.