How Joe Pug’s “Exit” Opens the Door for His Reentry

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Folk singer-songwriter Joe Pug hasn’t released an album in four years. So is it some kind of twisted irony that his first song off his upcoming album is called “Exit”? Or is “Exit” an apt way for Pug to enter into this chapter of his career?

His songwriting has matured some since 2014’s Windfall, but his gift for turning poetry into lyrics (sometimes handwritten) is as intact as it ever was. But it’s his collaboration with his producer and co-writer Kenneth Pattengale, one half of folk duo Milk Carton Kids, that has the music sounding like the time off did him good.

It’s hard to define the exact genre “Exit” might fit into. Americana? Yes. Folk? Yes. Soulful rock? That, too. Pug knows exactly how to paint an acoustic picture of heartbreak, American style. All with just his guitar and harmonica, and his trademark, open-mic-night sound.

“I had been sending Kenneth demos for nine months and he hadn’t picked a single one for the album,” Pug told “I was beginning to think that maybe our partnership wasn’t going to work out. But when I wrote ’Exit’ one afternoon, I knew it was a keeper. And so did he.

“It became the skeleton key for the rest of the record.”

The tunes that fill up the rest of The Flood in Color album — out July 19 — came to Pug after “Exit” was done. “The songs that I wrote after that were all much closer to the mark. I’m so glad that we didn’t settle for something earlier. Even though at the time I was ready to fire my composition book from a cannon into the sun,” he said.

After years and years of moving from place to place, Pug says he pulled images from his time in Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois and Texas and penned them into his “Exit.”

“Most of the imagery from the song comes from scattered recollections of my early years driving across the country. That was the time between being a kid and growing into a man, the time where you go out to a spiritual desert by yourself. It was difficult at the time but very necessary,” he said of his early attempts of adulting.

“Now enough time has passed that I remember it very romantically.”

Fans can pre-order Pug’s The Flood in Color — on Orange Crush vinyl or on a CD — here.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.