Austin’s Joe Pug opens his new record, The Great Despiser (April 24), with the heavy-shouldered “Hymn #76” sandy folk-lacing:

To meet me is to dare into the darkness
If you are devoted to a dream
Go and light the lantern
Leave your family abandoned
Meet me by the shallow of the stream

It’s his third offering from his third profession (playwright, carpenter) from his third adopted city (Greenbelt, MD, Chicago, IL). And if you ask him what it’s about he’ll tell you he hasn’t figured it out yet.

So goes the plainspoken charm off paper – a regular, blue collar mold just as happy to get ten songs on an album as to have a glass of bourbon and talk about it candidly. And as dark or contemptuous a verse/album title that may sound, Joe Pug as a singer-songwriter is much more an artist ready to shine a light on darkness to expose it like a painting, rather than glorify it. And to say he hasn’t figured out what The Great Despiser means, well that’s a loaded statement.

Pug, as a songwriter, has a slightly different approach to the craft than most artists. He’ll always start with “pen and paper” first, “marrying it to melody and rhythm later.” Maybe that’s his playwright muscle flexing. He assures it’s not. “The idea of the character thing,” it’s never really been his “forte,” he says. Does that mean that “Hymn #76″ is an abstract shot in the air? Maybe so. But there’s a tactile catharsis there that makes Joe Pug, Joe Pug. And characters evolve whether he wants them to or not. Take the title track:

Hey little brother, did you hear I made it back to town?
I’m getting sober, there’s some things I got to figure out

A concentrated folkie of the Hank Williams, Steve Earle breed, Pug came freewheelin’ out of the acoustic guitar and lone mic gate, traveling that beaten path across America in search of the veritable stripped down truth. He called it the Nation of Heat in 2008 with sentiments like “I Do My Father’s Drugs” and “Nobody’s Man.” On 2010′s Messenger a band came into the instrumentation picture, rounding out statements like “Unsophisticated Heart” and “Speak Plainly, Diana.”

While The Great Despiser fleshes things out a little further with a new producer (Brian Deck) who’s done some knob-twiddling for Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine, and a stand-up bass player, drummer and electric guitarist richen the palate, Pug’s backbone is still poetic. “Author’s need stories more than stories need them,” he croons on “Neither Do I need a Witness,” as an aqua guitar fill warbles about. “If I see the mountains/They must see me,” he continues.

It’s been a month since Pug released The Great Despiser, and he’s been on the road touring it all spring. When asked how it’s being received, Pug offered an anecdote starring Jeff Tweedy, in which the Wilco frontman highlights older material as more identifiable to fans, Pug following it up immediately with a John Steinbeck quote in which “every time someone cries, they’re truly, at the bottom of it, crying for themselves.” Call it a copout to save the mystery and accessibility of a record he still hasn’t figured out yet. But much to Pug’s humor-laced chagrin, his songs know exactly what they’re about:

The Great Despiser:”

Hey little brother, did you hear I made it back to town?
I’m getting sober, there’s some things I got to figure out
I saw the station and the light we used to run around
I could have sworn it though the things I used to care about

I’m so pleased to see, it’s been so long,
where you been since I’ve been gone?
What were all those words we used to shout?

I am the great despiser
I hold myself beside her
I often hope for fire
I am the great despiser

Hey little brother, did you hear I’m slipping back and forth?
I’m getting older man, it’s barely worth it any more
I had a dream that we were sitting on the summer porch
It seemed like everything was just the way it was before

Oh I’m pleased to see, it’s been so long
Where you been since I’ve been gone?
What were all these frozen letters for?

I am the great despiser
I hold myself beside her
I often hope for fire
I am the great despiser

I don’t wanna care about it any more
I don’t wanna care about it any more
I don’t wanna care about it any more