Notes from the New Year:

Thinking about Joe Pug, recognizing Mark Cutler and The Same Thing Project

Inauspicious or not, it’s Friday the 13th of this new year, 2023. Happy New Year!

I suppose the theme of this blast has something to do with music and musicians. Having already lost Terry Hall of the Specials, guitar genius Jeff Beck, and Lisa Marie of the Presleys this year, the road ahead might seem a little dark in the corners and around the bend, but there are reasons, as Ian Dury once sang, “to be cheerful.”

One of them is Joe Pug. Among the emergent folksingers of the last decade or so, Pug stands out for his poetic voice and soulful honesty. Critically acclaimed from the jump, his debut EP, Nation of Heat (2009), was followed by In the Meantime, an EP of songs that didn’t make the first one, but was no less loved.

In 2010, he released Messenger, of which The Marquee’s Jonathan Keller said, “With a million dollar voice and a songwriting pen torn from the fingers of the old-school folk tradition, Joe Pug has created one hell of a debut album. Messenger delivers on all levels…”

His latest release is Nation of Heat/Revisited, which has been described as “a complete, full-band reimagining of the 2008 solo-acoustic debut.”

We sing the praises of Joe Pug too because he is a word man, inspired in his lyrics by such great American voices as Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver.

And if all that is not enough, there is his podcast.

Since 2016, Pug has hosted The Working Songwriter, in which, as he says, “working songwriters talk to one another about life on the road, life in the studio, and life in the writer’s room.” Sometimes, when he has new music to talk about, he’ll even “turn the tables on himself”, as when Tony award winner (for Hadestown) Anais Mitchell stops by to talk about the reimagined “Hymn 35,” from Pug’s Nation of Heat/Revisited.

But wait, there’s more. And it’s the thing I really wanted to talk about from the start: Joe Pug’s monthly newsletter called The Enthusiast Digest. There’s something kind of vaudevillian about Joe’s mix of links to must-read articles, unusual podcasts, literary tidbits and recipes—spinning plates and magic hats.

This month features links to a Nicolas Cage profile in GQ, a piece, which Joe advises us to “savor” because “you only get to read it for the first time once,” a poem by Wendell Berry, and a letter to high-schoolers penned by Kurt Vonnegut. Always entertaining, the newsletter could and maybe should have its own fan club. Think I’ll start one right here, right now, on Friday the 13th.

Another good thing is Rhode Island rock and roll legend Mark Cutler’s The Same Thing Project. You can read all about that right here, in a story I wrote for the Cranston Herald. Just follow the link:,190477

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