Joe Pug is an American singer-songwriter from Greenbelt, Maryland whose debut EP `Nation Of Heat` sold over twenty thousand copies and was recorded just after he dropped out of college at a Chicago studio that his friend had snuck him into when other musicians had cancelled, It was a pretty stripped back offering and the singer has always wanted to re-record the songs in the way he “had always wished they could have been”
This revisited release opens with `Hymn #101` and obviously has a much fuller sound but retains that pleading, passionate vocal delivery. It paints a larger than life visual story through the lyrics and for me the line “I knew before we met, we`d meet” really struck home for some reason. The addition of organ, pedal steel and piano really brings this number to life. There`s a more anthemic Americana tinged almost road trip feel to `Nobody’s Man` which ebbs and flows with an organ kind of guiding us. A song that maybe hints at leading your own life on your own terms.
`I Do My Father’s Drugs` begins with a shimmering synth sound before harmonica and a steady drum beat allow the vocals to convey a tale that could be interpreted in a number of ways. The vocal delivery relay an exasperated, reflective almost world weary sense of what the narrator has witnessed and lived through. There`s an almost spiritual sense to `Hymn #35` which possibly hints at something omnipresent. A song that is piano led with some wistful harmonica flourishes interspersed throughout and vocals that share the message almost dispassionately, allowing your own analysis.
`Call It What You Will` hints at the break up of a relationship, which still resonates deeply with the raconteur and the accompanying music is pitched just a the right level of melancholy with a lightly tapped drum, gentle guitar chords and pedal steel that adds poignancy to this emotive tale. There`s a further narrative that eludes to romance with `Speak Plainly, Diana` but conceivably with a more positive outlook this time. A dreamy thoughtful submission, where the narrator asks their partner to take a chance with them on a future together.
Title track `Nation of Heat` closes out this extended play and it`s a kind of road trip through the land of the singer`s birth. A song that is patriotic but also eludes to its shortcomings. A considerate and contemplative composition to end on.
Joe`s life has progressed since the original release came out and on this version he was able to call on some renowned musicians to bring his vision to life with Mark Stepro & Dom Billett (drums), Phil Krohnengold (organ), Rich Hinman (pedal steel), Matthew Wright (piano), Justin Craig (electric guitars), Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket – electric guitars/pedal steel), Derry Deborja (Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – synth), BJ Barham (pan flute), Brandon Flowers (The Killers – backing vocals) and Courtney Hartman (backing vocals).
It`s difficult to express just how good `Nation Of Heat` (Revisited) is. I have to confess that I’d never heard of Joe Pug before this release. I also listened to the original version which is pretty stunning as well. I now have this singer–songwriter`s back catalogue to explore.
If you`ve never heard of Joe Pug, I can recommend that `Nation Of Heat` is no better a place to begin.