joe pug
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joe pug

Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"I've come to know the wish list of my father / I've come to know the shipwrecks where he wished," beams the grainy pipes of this old soul trapped in a young heart on "Hymn 101," his airy wisps reminiscent of the Boss and Woody Guthrie, though simply the throat the good God gave him. And the circle of folk certainly continues with his seven-song, bar-chord to finger-pluck debut of blue collar, rambling-on-social-consciousness ditties and heartfelt ballads. -

"...There is a timeless quality to this 7 song EP, like a found chest of remembrances in your grandparent’s attic, there are treasures for this that pay attention. And the foolish courage of man armed with only an acoustic guitar standing as a lightening rod for the ages is a wonder to behold." -

One of the most common exchanges we have when playing Joe Pug's Nation of Heat EP for a friend goes something like this:
Friend: "Wow, this is intense. How old is this guy?"
Chicagoist: "He's 24."
Friend: "Hooo-lee shit."
This scene has been repeated several times in the two weeks that we've had this little 7-songs wonder, and with good reason - Pug is the real deal. -

The record comes out of the chute fast on the strength of Hymn #101, a rambling, but captivating manifesto that has precedent in the Dream songs popularized by our friend from Hibbing. In less than five minutes, Pug and his hyperliterate protagonist simply dazzle..... this kid can certainly turn a phrase. Hymn #101 literally contains too many highlights to even begin to inventory. -

"...(Pug) possesses the strumming fingers and lush songbook of an all-American folk singer. In Pug's hard plucking, exaggerated choruses, and lyrical vignettes you can draw a pretty straight line from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen to Steve Earle to Josh Ritter. Like all of them, Pug is a populist at heart, a singer who can't help but talk about all of us when he sings about himself and can't help but sing about himself when he's talking about all of us. I'm a sucker for a good line and this one from "Hymn #101" is one of my favorites right now: "I've come to meet the sheriff and his posse/ to offer him the broad side of my jaw/ I've come here to get broke/ and maybe bum a smoke/ we'll go drinkin' two towns over after all." It could just be a comic-tragic put-on and you probably have to feel some turmoil yourself to truly appreciate it, but "Hymn #101" is full of lines that will fill you with both heartbreak and euphoria. It's good to be reminded that that's why we listen to music in the first place. -

Listening to this album is like waking up on Sunday morning, slipping into a tattered pair of jeans and an old t-shirt. The album is a possession that can become your friend. Kind of like Jack Daniels.
I found it hard to make it past the first track, “Hymn 101,” just because it is so damn good. After taking that song off repeat and listening to the rest of Nation of Heat, I knew I’d be addicted. Here I am, almost a week later, and the album has still not left my player. It will be one of the best EP’s of 2008.

…About half way through the first song, "Hymn #101", I knew this EP was set to shoot straight to levels of awesomeness I haven't heard from any folkie in ages. Once you hear Joe Pug sing you'll be looking for proof that he isn't a middle-aged, well seasoned vet of the folk circuit. He's not. Pug is a mere 23 years old, and he's only been playing (guitar and harmonica), singing, and songwriting for a short time. Nation of Heat is his debut recording, and each of the seven songs here is an absolute gem. Pug has a world weariness not often found in such a young person and it shines through in his voice and lyrics without a shred of a put-on.

…"Hymn #101" is so damn good that you may find it hard to move on to the next six songs. Umpteen repeat listens later and you'll still be marveling at Joe's amazing stream of consciousness lyrics, simple acoustic accompaniment, and timeless voice. Every word here is just amazingly beautiful, and the whole song is packed with symbolism and pure poetry. Consider "I've come to wish aloud among the overdressed crowd, come now to watch the sinking of the ship" or "I've come here to get high, to do more than just get by, I've come to test the timbre of my heart". Amen, Joe Pug.

Once you make it past "Hymn #101" you'll find six other equally wonderful songs. "Call it What You Will" will fill you with a melancholy feeling that you just can't shake. There's a second voice layered here, but I can't quite tell if it's a different person or just Joe's own vocals layered. I imagine there could be some great harmonies in Pug's future. As he sings "Call it what you will, I'm heartbroken still...words are just words" you'd have to be the world's most cold-hearted bastard to not be moved in some way. "Hymn 35" makes good use of Joe Pug's talent with the harmonica, and I'm reminded of some of Dan Bern's most beautiful songs. The title track bookends the EP with another four minute plus slice of perfection. "Nation of Heat" is more earnest than "Hymn #101", and he crafts this one with more of a chugging troubadour style that suits lines like "I seen skeleton mothers and hungry folks cross the street from the kitchens..."

Nation of Heat is a CD I almost passed over, and I could kick myself for coming that close to missing out on Joe Pug. Listening to this EP is like reading the love letters of someone you've never met. You get a glimpse into another person's core - both joys and heartaches - and you latch on to the fascination of spying into this stranger's emotions as you attach their meaning to your own life. Without a doubt, Nation of Heat will be a top album of 2008 for me. Joe Pug really is a stunning songwriter, and I hope to hear much more from him in the future.

...The seven acoustic cuts draw heavily on Pug's earliest influences; as a child, the guitarist immersed himself in his father's record collection, spinning albums by the likes of John Prine, John Hiatt and Randy Newman. In the 6th grade he formed his first band, bashing out Foo Fighters' covers at the school's year-end dance.

But by the time Pug enrolled in college, music had become an afterthought for the burgeoning writer. It was eventually an aversion to academia and a desire to again tackle something on a more personal level that drew Pug back to songwriting. "Writing songs can be easier than writing plays," says the musician. "But it can also be a struggle [to find your own voice]. You might capture it once, but each time out that battle starts anew."

This kid (still in his early 20s) is going to make a serious mark on this city’s music scene, guaranteed. Think Dylan, Woody Guthrie or, more recently, Willy Mason. Like these men, Pug’s songs are built around an acoustic guitar and incredibly smart, thought provoking lyrics. With a gravelly yet beautiful voice equally as beyond his years as his songwriting, he’s sure to gain a considerable following among the Old Town crowd. But don’t be surprised to see the name Joe Pug on a CD stand in your local Starbucks within the next couple of years. For better or worse, a talent this special is bound to make it within credit card-swiping distance of latte sipping soccer moms in no time. -

Earnest, touching, and world-weary far beyond his mere 22 years, Joe Pug often recalls early Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan on his self-released, simply titled Five Music Songs. From heartbreaking ballads like “In The Meantime” to the fable-like “Motel 6 Blues” to the obligatory protest number, “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” Pug exhibits a thoughtfulness and social consciousness that’s rare in singer-songwriters more than twice his age, and a talent that’s even rarer. -


Nation of Heat - 7 song EP

Airplay on: WMUC in MD, WNCW & WUNC in NC, WXRT in Chicago, in OR



Joe hails from the southern streets of Maryland. He spent a few collegiate years in North Carolina but dropped out for a number of reasons (including boredom and ineptitude). Currently he resides in Chicago, where he works as a carpenter by day and a songwright by night. He's grateful to everyone listening to the songs he wrote. He apologizes to everyone living in the houses he built.