by Robert Kerstens
From the first minute of The Unseen in Between – or if you didn’t make it that far, from looking at the cover – you might get the impression Steve Gunn has put out an album of rustic folk-rock in the style of Bob Dylan. Gunn even recruited Dylan’s longtime bassist, Tony Garnier, to keep the rhythm (using an upright once owned by Charles Mingus!). But as layers of reverb-laden instrumentals pile onto album opener “New Moon,” the music takes a transcendental turn that carries through the album’s meandering course. Like staring into the embers of a campfire, The Unseen in Between is a meditative experience, chock-full of oaken textures caught in a smoky psychedelic haze.
The rich sound of the album is strengthened by contributions from Gunn’s collaborators. The subtle whisper of Meg Baird’s backing vocals lend a ghostly atmosphere to “Vagabond”, a wistful ode to the nomadic lifestyle. James Elkington’s sylvan production is noticeable throughout, reminiscent of his excellent 2017 album Wintres Woma. This is especially true on the acoustic “Stonehurst Cowboy,” Gunn’s solemn reflection on the life and legacy of his father. Although not featured on the album, Kurt Vile’s influence can be heard as well. His distinct style of fuzzed out guitar solos over strummed acoustic loops appears on tracks like “Chance”, “New Familiar” and “Lightning Field.” Gunn was a touring member of Vile’s band, The Violators, in 2012.
Steve Gunn shows growth on The Unseen in Between, both as a lyricist and an instrumentalist. After spending many years in the shadows of his collaborators, Gunn comes into his own on this album with nine well-written, well-executed tracks. His finger-picked guitar work is the star of the album, but it rarely takes center stage, floating instead in the midst of swirling clouds of ambient Americana. The album can be stylistically monotone at times, but overall, The Unseen in Between is a pleasant listen from a talented guitarist.