"Speak Plainly, Diana" is the only song that made the jump from Joe Pug's EPs to his 2010 full-length debut, Messenger, but it sounds like it originated generations earlier. The simple picking-and-harmonica tune recalls classics with its folk melody and chanted chorus — "I don't mind ridin' around" — that already feel bone-deep to the listener. The Chicago-based singer-songwriter writes and plays in the tradition championed in earlier days by Bob Dylan and John Prine. With shrapnel-in-the-gut lyrics and a powerful acoustic presence often rounded out by pedal steel, Pug is compelling whether he's singing about something concrete, as on the song "Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)," or abstract, as in "Diana," where he sings that though "there's mysteries in the basement," there's still "nothing to understand."
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