Gunn-Truscinski Duo Credit: Heidi Diehl

Philadelphia’s Steve Gunn had made a name for himself with both his exploratory acoustic fingerstyle guitar playing and his more turbulent, noisy improvisational excursions before finding a new voice as an introspective singer-songwriter with a big sound; his songs meld lyrics that reflect a refined introspection with dusky, sometimes raucous folk rock that borders on the anthemic. In the wake of his 2016 album Eyes on the Lines (Matador) he’s been building an audience the old-fashioned way—as a road dog leading a well-oiled band. But despite his change in direction, he hasn’t abandoned his more experimental side. On last year’s Bay Head (Three Lobed), his third duo album with longtime drummer John Truscinski, he lets his guitar do the talking. The record’s ten tracks range widely, with coruscating textures, hypnotically resonating long tones, reverb-soaked curlicues, and motific variations that enfold between alternately elegant, almost jazzy riffs and searing leads that quickly lodge in the memory. Truscinski deftly propels the performances without ever deploying a backbeat; instead he uses his kit as an orchestral spellcaster. “Seagull for Chuck Berry” pivots from a melodically serene vibe, where Gunn plays dry, gritty guitar licks that suggest Bill Frisell caked up in desert sand, into a wonderful, hallucinogenic frenzy. “Quiet Storm (Taksim III)”—taksim is the Turkish word for “improvisation”—is one of several tracks that draw upon Middle Eastern sonorities without a lick of cultural tourism. Gunn’s guitars are kept afloat by his partner’s exploratory rumble; the piece is less concerned with narrative than with casting a mood of restless wandering.   v