Joe Pug, David Wax Museum, Vandaveer

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Editorial Review

By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, June 1, 2012

Joe Pug, who graduated from Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School in 2002, is still a young man, although not as young as his boyish looks might imply. But his songs are an old man’s, refusing the sentimentality of so many 20-something singer-songwriters and bringing the bad news along with the good. He’s the best thing to happen to the singer-songwriter genre in a while.

The highlight of his terrific new album, “The Great Despiser,” is the song “Those Thankless Years,” on which Pug warns us, “If you came here for the accolades . . . there are no sweet words to wash your face,” because life’s “a road of bones and you get no thanks.” There’s something refreshing in being told not what we want to hear but what we need to hear.

Pug is backed throughout the album by a muscular folk-rock band, which provides a firm push to his tuneful music. But the main attraction here are the lyrics, full of big themes and sharp details. He’s as unsparing with himself as with the rest of the world, admitting on the title track that he sometimes lapses into the role of “The Great Despiser.”

Yet on the next cut, “A Gentle Few,” he listens to an older man’s advice against surrendering to blinded despair or blinding ambition. As he sings the song, Pug sounds like that old man, refusing to lie about an imperfect world but refusing to give up on it either.