It’s fair to refer to singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ed Pettersen as a journeyman, especially if you downplay any negative connotations the tag carries and emphasize the journey part. During the course of his wanderings, Pettersen has refined an appealingly straightforward writing approach, staked out comfort zones for a variety of styles, and developed winning relationships with a number of talented veteran players. There’s abundant evidence of all those things from the beginning to end of his New Punk Blues.
Pettersen’s writing is sharpest when he’s at his most direct and plainspoken, and he digs close to the bone on the first-person “June, 1945″. The matter-of-fact way in which the double betrayal at the story’s heart is presented packs the chill of a murder ballad. The song’s delivery is pure folk, but elsewhere Pettersen moves from slide-guitar blues and roots rock to horn-blessed soul and, on the album-capping “Baghdad”, one-man-band atmospherics. It’s that versatility that makes a mid-album midtempo slump a bit disappointing, but the subsequent four-song run (kick-started by the ’70s rock throb of “I’m Not Coming Down”) that ends the record is redemption writ large.
As for the guest list, the presence of southern soul legend Reggie Young, Motown bassist Bob Babbitt, Average White Band’s Pete Abbott and pedal steel hero Al Perkins make it an impressive and eclectic one. Pettersen mentor Scott Kempner has perhaps the biggest role of all, though he doesn’t even play on the album. He co-wrote “Gather The Family ‘Round”, a rocking rallying cry that makes a perfect opener, and inspired the jangly and unapologetically giddy “Top Ten”.