Essential New Music: P.G. Six’s “Murmurs & Whispers”

Pat Gubler is the kind of guy who can intuit fellow musicians’ ideals and help them sound like better versions of themselves. In recent times, he’s put a fine gloss on Garcia Peoples’ rollicking choogle, sparked the Weeping Bong Band’s spacy shimmer and upholstered Stella Kola’s delicate folk pop. Gubler is not the kind of guy who puts his name out front, even when it’s his own essence he’s bottling. Instead, he lurks behind the title P.G. Six.

2023 has been a good year for P.G. Six. It started with the vinyl re-release of Parlor Tricks And Porch Favorites, which until now has been his truest expressing of his devotion to the best parts of the mid-20th-century English folk revival and its more rocking offspring. Now, with Murmurs & Whispers, Gubler returns to its template of melancholic, rustic narration and stirs in a couple additional decades of accumulated musical knowledge. It’s a welcome homecoming.

From the start, Gubler has been an advocate for craft. Even in the 1990s, his commitment to cohesion and melody made his tunes stand out among the diverse shamblings of his old mates in Tower Recordings. But there’s an apparent effortlessness to his singing, strumming and plucking (mostly on Celtic harp and various guitars) that wasn’t always there, and it makes Murmurs & Whispers one record of words that you can enjoy without attending to a single line. But if you do, the songs are more lyrically acute than in the past, deftly threading fine details into their narratives of mourning and relief.

“Tell Me Death” (which Gubler cowrote with Sharron Kraus) and the epic “I Don’t Want To Be Free” use antique language and his spare, resonant playing to make some bitter, universal truths go down. But these same devices also enable Gubler to express small joys without lapsing into corniness on “Just Begun” and “I Have Known Love.”  The carefully layered arrangements vary these essentials just enough to keep you listening again and again, registering that next fine, unearthed detail. Murmurs & Whispers is, like so much great folk-influenced music, a true and steady companion.

—Bill Meyer