Joe Pug's third record 'Windfall', his most accomplished work to date, shows why his re-location to Austin from Chicago was a clever move. His folk compositions are now soaked in Southern Country instrumentation and references that elevate his work to the level of some of his influences, which presumably include Jason Isbell and Ryan Adams' work with Whiskeytown. If you throw a dash of Springsteen's 'Nebraska' into the mix, you'll have a good idea of what to expect here, although Pug is too accomplished to make his own brand of Americana sound derivative.
Thematically, 'Windfall' picks up where 2012's 'The Great Despiser' left off. Pug is still talking about growing up and moving on, but this time with wisdom more befitting of a man twice his age. Full of melancholy, but almost always presented in a hopeful light, Pug's vignettes still play like a series of short stories or scenes from an imagined film. He's lost none of his ability to channel literary storytelling. That's one of the many reasons why this record feels somewhat more accomplished than just being a disparate set of songs; Pug has crafted a snapshot of Southern rural life that feels authentic and compelling.
Interestingly, Pug's choice of first single, 'If It Still Can't Be Found' closes the album, and in many ways summarises the various protagonists' struggles into a single line; "There's a road I have known I could always find". It's not the most obvious choice of single, but I suspect the presence of Wilco's Pat Sansone on Mellotrone may have helped to raise its prominence. My choice would have been either of the first two tracks. The simple and catchy piano melody that holds 'Bright Beginnings' together is an obvious choice for a single, but the life-affirming chorus of 'Veteran Fighter' may just win in my mind.
Talking of winning, surely that's the central conceit of an album called 'Windfall'? To an extent, yes. But Pug seems less interested in the blind luck you'd associate with a windfall, rather overcoming adversity at all costs. His hiatus following four years on the road seems to have cemented his belief that there is hope just around the corner for his protagonists.
And it's that narrative conclusion that makes 'Windfall' so rewarding to listen to. Stand-out track 'Great Hosannas' sees Pug reel off a laundry list of fragmented images to a sombre backing. But on re-inspection, his double tracked vocal delivery sounds quietly defiant with a desire to overcome the mundanity he's detailing. It's these details, which add depth to Pug's song writing and ultimately make 'Windfall' well worth your time.
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Seven songs to take you to victory, or seven songs to dry your eyes to.
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