Graded on a Curve:
Gunn-Truscinski Duo,
Bay Head

Of the two halves comprising the Gunn-Truscinski Duo, guitarist Steve Gunn holds the higher profile, this stature gained largely through a handful of records showcasing his considerable talent as a singer-songwriter. Drummer John Truscinski has been crucial component in those albums, with the extensiveness of the relationship bringing their work as a duo a heightened vitality. The latest fruit of the partnership is Bay Head, which offers ten tracks intermingling roots, rock, psych, and fuzz. Like the pair’s two prior full-lengths, it’s out on vinyl and digital through Three Lobed Recordings.

Steve Gunn is a helluva good guitarist, and when he sings, the results are more than just pleasant. But the combination of the two, as heard on 2013’s Time Off and the following year’s Way Out Weather, both for the Paradise of Bachelors label, and ’16’s breakout Eyes on the Lines for Matador, transcends the standard template of a guitarist singing songs.

No, Gunn’s greatest strength is as a collaborator, though the point is perhaps debatable; when he’s really clicking, “helluva good guitarist” underestimates him. But the list of his associates on record is substantial, including fellow Pennsylvanian Kurt Vile, harpist Mary Lattimore, members of Hiss Golden Messenger, Marcia Bassett and Pete Nolan in GHQ, and Cian Nugent in Desert Heat, plus the Black Twig Pickers together and the band’s Mike Gangloff alone on Melodies for a Savage Fix. Topping it off are discs shared with veteran NYC folkie Ed Askew and the esteemed Brit guitarist Mike Cooper.

Maybe the best is the Gunn-Truscinski Duo. It’s certainly been the most fruitful, beginning with Sand City in 2010, continuing with Ocean Parkway two years later, and after a significant break, recommencing with Bay Head. But as stated up top, Truscinski has been a valued contributor to Gunn’s solo efforts, playing on the three discs listed above, and additionally filling out Desert Fire and stepping into Nolan’s spot in GHQ.

Don’t get the idea Truscinski’s just a Gunn utility guy, as he’s lent his skills to Magik Markers and Dredd Foole and the Din, plus alongside guitarist Bill Nace (whose artwork adorns Bay Head’s cover) a bunch of releases from the outfit X.O.4. More to the point, the Gunn-Truscinski Duo connects as an exemplar of creative equality.

Bay Head reinforces this situation, but with a few welcome twists, the first heard immediately on opener “Road Bells.” The duo’s prior two discs utilized drums and guitar for a full-bodied whole, but the drone pulse of Truscinski’s synth and the late emergence of distant bells serves as an intriguingly foreboding prelude to the psych guitar excursions of “Seagull for Chuck Berry.”

Both Sand City and Ocean Parkway occasionally gave off non-jam band-ish Grateful Dead/ Ballroom vibes, making them a two-man relative to Cian Nugent and the Cosmos’ full-band framework, and while that’s still the case here, the acidic rawness of Gunn’s flights lends a distinctive twist as the cut exudes energy that’s decidedly positive. Throughout, Truscinski is assertive without overplaying, his tastefulness in execution critical to their overall success.

Although there are more and largely shorter tracks shaping Bay Head, there’s no shortage of expansiveness, as the Eastern qualities of “Quiet Storm (Taksim III)” deepen the psychedelic atmosphere while unifying the discography; “Taksim II” was the opening cut on Sand City. As a fair amount of psych stuff both historically and in the here-and-now can be faulted for meandering, the concision on display here only increases the effectiveness.

Gunn and Truscinski have never lacked discipline. Thus far, they haven’t done much that can be tagged as rocking, but the fuzzy forward motion of “Sugar” gets in the neighborhood, while never losing a handle on the outbound gorgeousness of Gunn’s playing. “EIP” returns to the drone textures established in “Road Bells,” though the mood is meditative rather than ominous. Some might call it abstract, but as it unwinds clear patterns are discernable. It’s followed by a succinct bit of fingerpicking, with “Shell” a reminder that Gunn was once lumped into a big bag of Fahey disciples.

In the opening moments of “Some Lunar Day” he’s more reminiscent of Peter Green, though the piece ultimately crests in a manner that’s hard to categorize as belonging to any direct line of precedent. Suffice to say that Gunn’s soaring leads and Truscinski’s work on the toms deliver this remarkably consistent album a highlight.

“Flood and Fire” takes a bit of non-hackneyed blues-rock structure and dips it in acid as a lead-up to “Gunter,” the set’s longest and rawest entry; as it played, thoughts of Spacemen 3 and Can were conjured, and that’s no minor thing. It’d certainly be a difficult scenario to top, so instead “Coral” redirects into an attractively placid zone for the finale. It solidifies Bay Head as a splendid return for the duo, and one that broadens the possibilities of Gunn and Truscinski’s already potent union.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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