Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Soundkeeper Music Album Reviews

Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Soundkeeper Music Album Reviews
In his improv duo with drummer John Truscinski, guitarist Steve Gunn makes purposefully stark instrumental music that remains as challenging and personal as his singer-songwriter records. 

When Steve Gunn was in his early twenties and living in Philadelphia, he learned a valuable lesson from solo guitar legend Jack Rose. During his shift at a coffee shop, Rose refused a free drink to a police officer and was fired—an opportunity he took to devote himself fully to his craft. Gunn, an aspiring musician at the time, looked up to Rose as a kind of hero, emblematic of the ways you can navigate the world without compromising your values. “I was always picking his brains,” he told The Guardian of their friendship.
Now deep into his own career, Gunn has found several outlets for his vision. There’s his traditional singer-songwriter fare: the jammy, easygoing solo records under his own name, where he sings about memory and mortality, wandering and keepin’ on. And there’s the instrumental music where he blends these thoughts into a headier philosophy, following more closely in Rose’s lineage. With drummer John Truscinski, he formed an improv duo whose music is purposefully stark but remains deeply challenging and personal.

When Gunn began devoting himself more closely to songwriting in the mid-2010s, he referred to his work in the Gunn-Truscinski Duo as a kind of meditation, a way to summon his most instinctive voice. But just as his singer-songwriter records have grown more accomplished, the Gunn-Truscinski Duo has developed its own evolving sound: a stirring blend of drone and folk music, occasionally softened with a late night hum recalling Yo La Tengo. Their songs often consist of a repetitive, ragged motif from Gunn’s guitar, paired with a lyrical pattern from Truscinski’s kit. It is slow-burn mood music, remarkable for how much it is able to conjure with so few parts.

On Soundkeeper, their fourth and most ambitious album, the duo expands the boundaries of their sound while still holding back as much as they can. After two opening tracks where Gunn’s guitar work feels like scene-setting—chord progressions that resist the very idea of progression—the first riff emerges four tracks in, about 15 minute into the record. And the first thing that resembles an actual solo appears one song later, in “Pyramid Merchandise,” a ten-minute jam recorded live at Brooklyn’s Union Pool. Watching the video of their performance is a fitting complement to the patient sprawl of the record: Gunn tucked away on one side of the stage, pivoting forward, and Truscinski in the back, eyes fixed toward the ceiling.

The live setting suits the duo, whose work has always felt more focused on the spark of creation than the immersive sound design of experimental artists in recording studios. The 16-minute title track, another highlight, was also recorded during a live set, and it serves as the centerpiece of the record: the explosion from which everything builds and fades. In the rest of the songs, Gunn and Truscinski experiment with new textures: Gunn dabbles with piano and 12-string guitar, while Truscinski abandons the drums completely for one song, accompanying Gunn’s slide guitar in “Northwest” with a deep, resonant drone.

My favorite moments on the record arrive at the very end. “Windows” is a quiet, acoustic-based performance: the kind of laid back Americana that Gunn gravitates toward as a vocalist. To complement the music, Truscinski’s drum part follows the cadence of speech over rhythm; it feels spontaneous, intimate in a new way for the duo. A more direct conversation closes the record. Titled “For Eddie Hazel,” the seven-minute track pays tribute to the Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist whose playing spoke to a similar set of values as their own—virtuosic and refined, cosmic but grounded. Gunn’s electric guitar pulses and echoes, while Truscinski locks into a steady trance. It is the sound of two people with a rare gift for converging into one, or conjuring so many more, at their will.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Soundkeeper Music Album Reviews Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Soundkeeper Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 19, 2020 Rating:

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