Joe Pug

While it’s practically impossible for a white dude with an acoustic guitar and harmonica to achieve anything genuinely surprising, it’s nearly as rare for such an artist to achieve anything approaching genuine. Joe Pug’s “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” from his excellent 2008 “Nation of Heat” EP, is one of those precious cases. Utilizing open chords and a cadence on loan from “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the song succeeds not by breaking new ground, but mining familiar soil so well, etching existential dilemma with the grace and poise that only comes from measured study of all the right John Prine LPs. Lines like “If I return with eyes half open, don’t ask me where I was, I do my father’s drugs” may read trite on paper, but Pug delivers them with enough grit and soul to render them believable. We here in Phoenix have got no shortage of vaguely country pseudo folk singer-songwriters sulking about, but I’d suggest they check out Pug for a few pointers on how to get it right. The right vintage Wrangler shirt and cowboy boots do not an old soul make, it’s about somehow finding the conviction to take such a tired act and tap into what makes traditions sound true.
Mon., Feb. 8, 8 p.m., 2010
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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.