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Jake La Botz And Joe Pug Bring Drama To Finally Friday

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Joe Pug

Why does this week’s Finally Friday lineup feel like a film noir? I can see it now: Joe Pug’s a former prizefighter who turned to crime when his career tanked. Jake La Botz is a hard-bitten detective with secrets of his own who’s hot on his trail. But seriously, you won’t need extra drama with these guys on stage, virtually, for our weekly showcase.

Jake La Botz could be that proverbial most interesting man in the world. As a young man in his hometown of Chicago he sat at the knee of blues masters like David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis. For well over twenty years, he’s toured the nation’s juke joints and tattoo parlors (a favorite venue of his) playing visceral roots music in a Tom Waits vein. His 2019 album They’re Coming For Me won the Independent Music Award for Best Alt-country Album. Early on he made a fan and friend of Steve Buschemi who coaxed La Botz into the world of acting - movies and live theater. He’s got a flinty handsomeness that puts me in mind of Sam Shepard, but he’s not ever the tough guy. La Botz also teaches meditation as part of his portfolio. Now he’s preparing the Sept. 9 release of Hair On Fire, whose singles so far suggest some existential and spiritual overtones, set to some chanky beats. Interesting!

Joe Pug makes us think about audacious writers of literature even as he evokes major musical wordsmiths like Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Walt Whitman and John Steinbeck are explicit influences in his neuron-stimulating work and have been since he quit college in UNC, drove to Chicago and debuted in 2008 with his self-released all acoustic EP Nation of Heat. That rough but scintillating project led to a mentorship relationship with Steve Earle, who took him on tour and guided him in the troubadour ways. Pug’s been a staple of modern folk ever since, kicking out five fine studio albums and never showing signs of ennui about his path. Now he’s taken on the challenge of remaking that debut with an all electric soundscape and the help of numerous friends working at a remote studio distance. Hindsight is a powerful tool for interpretation it seems on Nation of Heat Revisited. “Nation of Heat is about being a young person on the precipice of adulthood and worrying about your own inadequacies and whether you’d be up to the challenge,” Pug told Paste magazine about the pivotal recording. Lines like “You might say that it's reckless, you might say that it's wild/But I'd rather be nobody's man than somebody's child,” have a different valence now that he’s a dad.

The music as always starts at noon.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.