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Paul Westerberg: PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys

Paul Westerberg

Paul Westerberg

PW & The Ghost Gloves
Cat Wing Joy Boys

(Dry Wood Music)

When the Minneapolis bard of blue hearts and willingly unkempt rock and roll achingly pines, “See the ghost on a canvas/Most people don’t see there” on one of his newest tracks, you get an idea who he’s singing about. There’s probably not a better American songwriter in the last 25 years.

While Westerberg’s catalog is celebrated—from frontman of the groundbreaking, self-proclaimed “power trash” outfit the Replacements to two decades of sporadic solo output—he’s that ghost. And probably willingly so. He’s certainly done his part to put himself there. He broke up the Replacements just as the seeds they’d sown were taking root and taking over mainstream rock. He doesn’t maintain an official site or social networking home on the Web. He stays at home and records in his basement, playing most if not all of the instruments, often with all rough edges and mistakes intact. He has basically refused to play the traditional music business games. This is one reason that we love him so much. He’s not the “rebel without a clue” that he once sang about but a steadfast D.I.Y. man who isn’t going to be told what to do. And the bastard still writes songs better than the rest.

Without fanfare, without the benefit of record company buildups or press releases, word came down over the weekend through internet chatter and fan circles, just as it has with Westerberg’s last few self-released singles and EPs: A new EP would arrive on Tuesday of this week. That opening track, “Ghost on the Canvas,” is a sad beauty. The perfectly sloppy Stones vamp of “Drop Them Gloves” is amiable, by-the-book rock fun. The solo piano and vocal intro to “Love on the Wing” sets the stage for a downbeat ballad that exudes bleak pathos, until it breaks to the brighter core, where the acoustic guitar strums in and a mildly melancholy Westerberg sings lines like “He’s the star for which all evenings wait/You are the dusk you feel his ache/Darkness then break.” Westerberg balances so much on that wing: It’s a poetic ode of affection that also serves as confessional (maybe an apology?) and certainly bears an underpinning of hopefulness. And it’s infectiously melodic.

The spirited “Gimmie Little Joy”—with lines about playing a steel guitar when no one’s around—reinforces the themes of Westerberg as this sort of semi-retired rock cult hero house dad, who insists the fire is far from out when the twisted wordsmith turns the lines, “Now that I got time on my hands/You’d think I’d understand what to do/But I don’t expect you to.” On PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys, Westerberg is playing by his own rules and sticking by his own instincts, as he mostly always has. Thank goodness for that.

donny kutzbach

PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys is available on CD and as digital download exclusively through

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