Review: Steve Gunn – Nakama EP

Steve Gunn Nakama artwork

Steve Gunn took some time to find his place – most of us do – but his last two albums, 2019’s The Unseen In Between and last year’s Other You, have comfortably been the high watermarks of a slow burning solo career.

Recorded in LA with Tortoise’s Jeff Parker, in places the latter boasted an ambience redolent of the west coast’s light and space. Whatever the Philadelphian had sought out there, it suited everyone concerned.

That idea of exploration and new horizons underpins the quintet of new versions found on Nakama (meaning ‘friend’ or ‘compatriot’ in Japanese), each building on it one way or another.

Don’t call this a remix project though: the singer describes the originals instead as ‘points of departure’, with the chums in question – Mikey Coltun and Ahmoudou Madassane of Mdou Moctar, Natural Information Society, Circuit des Yeux and Bing & Ruth – more like pilots than producers.

The material is in satisfyingly good hands. Each track is worked gently; Good Wind comes back from its former life with a drowsy haziness that suits, whilst Ever Feel That Way scales back Gunn’s vocals, underlining if anything his ability to conjure a song on which the words and music are not either/or features.

The undoubted highlight however is a nuanced yet markedly different treatment of Protection; speaking about the transformation Mikey Coltun of Mdou Moctar said:

‘Ahmoudou and I wanted to give Protection a Tuareg feel. We knew we wanted to use field recordings from Niger and specifically Tende music, which is the drums and chanting you hear.’

The result is a rare example of a track at the tender mercy of someone who loves it enough to make skillful change from the outside in.

Don’t call it a remix EP, whatever you do, but whatever Nakama isn’t, it’s more evidence that Steve Gunn continues to weave an elegant and authentic path through the jungle of modern day musicianship.

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