written by Chris Familton
Chris Altmann is the singer with Melbournians The Vandas but he is fast developing a solo career with some authentic country and southern rock acoustica. From the first guitar notes and words he came across as someone who knows his country music and isn’t afraid to frame his songs in the classic templates of the genre. Altmann sung everything from soulful pleas in the vein of Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson to Beatles-eque melodies that seemed to sit perfectly with his guitar playing that was self-assured and light-fingered yet not overly showy. Altmann also threw in a couple of covers of Doug Sahm and Hank Williams – openly admitting his influences.
In certain folk and americana circles there had been a minor wave of hype about Joe Pug and stark and sombre folk songs. Indeed, Justin Townes Earle twittered a week prior that we should all check out Pug when he came through our fair land. As the red Raval curtains parted, Pug lurched toward the mic with guitar in hand and harmonica around neck. A few minutes later he had pretty much won over the audience with his first song Nation Of Heat and they remained captivated for the next hour.
Many will place the mantle of Dylan at Pug’s feet and yet the influence is both obviously and sincerely applied to his craft. He looks the part and he shapes his sets of words with concise ideas via clever wordplay. The songs were stories woven with emotion and themes of self discovery, exploration and affairs of the heart. In lesser hands this could have quite easily sounded weak and derivative but Pug seemed to invest genuine heart and soul in what he was saying and playing.
Some interaction with a fellow American in the audience provided some light relief from the dark and serious mood of many of Pug’s songs and when he brought Chris Altmann back on stage for covers of Gram Parson’s Hickory Wind and Red Simpson’s Close Up The Honky Tonks he showed he can do country as well as he can do folk.
Over one hour of magical music Joe Pug proved he is the real deal – a singer/songwriter/musician of great talent, possessor of an affable demeanor and a poet with much to say.
this review first appeared in Drum Media