Reviews: Steve Gunn, Boerum Palace (Three-Lobed)

l_92bdc10105ad4cc1bf8eef4c7c12ac6dThe underground is currently experiencing a golden age of solo guitar activity. Although tragically overshadowed by the death of Jack Rose, 2009 was a watershed year for experimental and classically minded operators, including crucial releases from major players spanning the stylistic pantheon. Sir Richard Bishop, Tom Carter, Pete Nolan, Glenn Jones, and Mr. Rose himself (solo and with The Black Twig Pickers) were joined by debuts from the likes of Willie Lane (whose debut solo outing Known Quantity, released on his own Cord-Art Imprint, was one of the most slept-on releases of the year), and Steve Gunn.

Early in ’09, Gunn appeared on one half of a split LP with Sean David McMillen. Gunn’s contribution was a sidelong showcase of precise guitar work with a strong underlying structure that betrayed a gift for composition. For fans who knew Gunn only from his long-running GHQ project with Pete Nolan and Marcia Bassett – a divisive and occasionally brilliant drone/psych outfit – Side A was a revelation, and held great promise for his debut long player. Boerum Palace opens with the magisterial “Mr. Franklin,” which Visitation Rites’ own Matt Kruglinski covered a few months back in great detail: a monster track, and a confident point of departure for an extremely focused effort. After the opening salvo of “Mr. Franklin,” the modest-in-length-and-title “Visitation II” serves as a palate cleanser before the standout “House of Knowledge,” where Gunn is joined by Heidi Diehl of Vanishing Voice. This hazy joint, with its plaintive, stony vocals and fuzzy riffs, sounds like a long-lost WWVV classic.

“Cryin’ Eyes” is a surprising and effective reworking of a J.J. Cale tune. As on “Mr. Franklin,” Marc Orleans’ pedal steel work adds a distinctive flavor. The track hews closer to classic rock sound than anything else on the record, and the relaxed beauty and earnest sentiment make “Cryin’ Eyes” a future mixtape classic. The two Orleans collaborations here are fruitful enough that one can only hope the occasional Orleans-Gunn show will produce a full-length in the near future (Prospective title: “Welcome To The Gunn Show,” natch). “Jadin’s Dream” is a strong stylistic left-turn after the breezy “Cryin’ Eyes,” a solo instrumental piece with a healthy dose of echo, free without being aimless.

“Dusted Mind” is a nice display of post-Neil prowess, and not just because it features a harmonica; Gunn’s vocals truly shine on this track, reminding us that the “singer” half of the equation is just as important as the “songwriter” part. Boerum Palace concludes with “Mustapha’s Exist,” expertly layering guitar parts and carefully controlled bursts of riffage before bursting into an explosive and lengthy concluding solo. Boerum Palace arrives so perfectly sequenced and with such strong production values that it’s hard to believe this is Gunn’s first widely-available full length. Anyone with an internet connection and a cursory interest in underground music knows there is simply too much music out there –and, even more troubling, that so much of it is worth hearing. I am confident that Gunn’s debut will be seen as a high watermark in the current age of solo guitar renaissance, and you owe it to yourself to check out Boerum Palace.

Steve Gunn, “House of Knowledge” (Boerum Palace, Three Loved, 2009)

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Words: Max Burke
Photo: ((((((((ORLEANS GUNN))))))))))) MySpace

Buy the record from Three-Lobed here.

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4 Responses to “Reviews: Steve Gunn, Boerum Palace (Three-Lobed)”

  1. parallelliott says:

    This is a great album that I only heard a few weeks ago. I agree, many killer guitar albums this year. Known Quantity was one of my faves.

  2. MFB says:

    I also completely neglected to mention James Blackshaw’s superb The Glass Bead Game on Young God Records in my brief roundup of great guitar records from last year. Very worth your time.

  3. […] year, Steve Gunn produced us a standout raga-folk record in Boerum Palace. That album was primarily a showcase for Gunn’s unaccompanied guitar, with a few memorable […]

  4. the hip pop says:

    […] year, GHQ’s Steve Gunn served up a standout raga-folk record in Boerum Palace– a showcase for Gunn’s unaccompanied guitar, with a few memorable contributions on […]

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