On his last album, 2014’s Way Out Weather, the virtuosic guitarist Steve Gunn came out of his cocoon. Long known for his insular solo guitar studies, Gunn finally emerged as a pop-oriented songwriter, with a full band in tow to bring his bold arrangements to life. Highly detailed, Way Out Weather operated like an architectural tour, guiding us from room to room and letting us admire Gunn’s nuanced guitar work, gorgeous sonic textures and atmospheric touches.
Now, with Eyes on the Lines, Gunn has moved in an even more accessible direction. He has never sounded so confident, either in his effortless playing or his mahogany-rich vocal melodies. Paradoxically, however, with its circular riffs, streamlined melodies and hypnotic grooves, this new batch of songs also marks a return to the meditative nature of his earlier work. But this time around, Gunn has invited us to join him.
Throughout Eyes on the Lines, the guitar riffs, provided by Gunn, alongside Jim Elkington and Paul Sukeena, operate like mantras, emerging, and then repeating, in various ripples, bursts and shimmering auras. On opening track “Ancient Jules,” the riffs build on top of each other, creating a mesmerizing cross-hatching of sound that only draws us in further. When one of the guitarists takes a solo, like on “Drop” or “Park Bench Smile,” the lead guitar emerges subtly out of the stew, drawing a delightful and elegant contrast.
The album’s lyrics reinforce this peace. “Drop” finds Gunn observing, “I think I missed my flight,” with the concern of someone finding an extra jar of mayonnaise in the fridge, and on closing track “Ark,” his melodies unspool slowly, as if he recorded the song on a hot summer night, after a day full of drinking mint juleps.
On lead single “Conditions Wild,” Gunn sums up the album’s mission statement in one fell swoop: “When you read between the lines,” he sings, “the space will be untied.” On Eyes on the Lines, Steve Gunn and his spectacular band have stripped away the maximalist intricacies of their last record, giving both themselves and their audience the space to reflect. These songs wander, but they succeed because they enable us to wander, too. They encourage us to get lost.
For more from Steve Gunn, check out his 2014 Daytrotter session in the player below.