Joe Pug can mesmerize with just his voice, words, and an acoustic guitar, which he more than proved on his 2010 debut, Messenger. That release was moving and deep, and The Great Despiser is equally so. Examining universal themes through the eyes of relatable characters grappling with life’s ups and downs, Pug’s songs can be heartbreaking, soothing, and illuminating at once. With a subtle band that supports the songs without overwhelming them, the fuller sound sets this release apart from Messenger and Pug's two EPs. Fingerpicked stunners like “Hymn #76” and “One of Many” run alongside songs sweetened by bass and a tasteful electric guitar, with drums kicking in on the folk rockers “Stronger Than the World,” “Neither Do I Need a Witness,” and the title track. Yet whatever the arrangement, Pug's rich voice and graceful lyrics stay at the album's center. Each of these 11 thoughtful, unsentimental songs can hit you where you live.