Joe Pug is an unlikely music-blog darling. With his harmonica rack, dreadnought guitar and busker's work ethic, he's a throwback to Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie. Reaching even further back, he conjures role models such as Whitman and Thoreau, for whom the rhythms of the American vernacular formed the hard, sacred core of art and whose politics were not a preening front. On Messenger, Pug's first full-length album, the Chicagoan stretches out beyond solo acoustic self-reliance. "Bury Me (Far From My Uniform)" is fierce enough to rival Tom Waits' "The Day After Tomorrow" as an antiwar ballad, while "Unsophisticated Heart" stands with the most searching of love hymns penned by the old masters: Dylan, Cohen and Whitman himself. Joe Pug really is that good.
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