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Joe Pug

Windfall – 2015 (Lightning Rod)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Joe Pug

Joe Pug is one of those exceptionally astute artists who, despite their best efforts, find themselves inhabiting the marginal fringes of wider acclaim. It's frustrating, but still a fact that he's yet to achieve the wide recognition that's so clearly his due. With "Windfall," Pug imagines the larger goal implied by the album's title, thanks to a set of songs offering emotional resilience and a decidedly emphatic impression. That's not to imply that Pug's on the verge of superstar status, but clearly he possesses the smarts and savvy needed to garner added appeal.

Pug, a native of Maryland, cites John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, and Beck as his major musical influences, but his darker psyche might be best attributed to literary heroes like John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman and Raymond Carver. His songs convey the weary feel that comes with subdued resignation, a sound that's pretty without appearing precious. "Stay and Dance" and "The Measure" are understated and yet also resolute, suggesting an unerring resolve as well as an underlying optimism. Even some of his most downtrodden sentiments seem to boast an upbeat flipside; the quiet yearning of "Veteran Fighter" culminates in a compelling refrain, while "Burn and Shine" transforms the song's down home demeanor into a surprisingly amiable sway and shuffle.

After two EPs and three full length LPs, Pug's shored up the kind of reputation that can make or break an aspiring artist and, in turn, his wider ambitions. These are the kind of songs that are soft and sweet by their very definition, while also accompanied by sentiments that are capable of getting quickly under the skin. Given the lingering effect of these sublime ballads, "Windfall" proves itself to be a real winner indeed.