BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Giant Sand: Blurry Blue Mountain (Fire/Southbound)

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Giant Sand: Better Man Than Me
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Giant Sand: Blurry Blue Mountain (Fire/Southbound)

The next few months sees the re-presentation of the Giant Sand back-catalogue, the Tucson-based band helmed by singer-songwriter Howe Gelb for these past 25 years which has had among its ranks the core of Calexico (John Convertino and Joey Burns) and a guest list which has included M. Ward, the late Vic Chestnutt and Rainer Placek, Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate, Neko Case and many other luminaries.

By my count coming down the highway at you will be 13 Giant Sand albums and eight albums under Gelb's own name. That's a lot of music from someone most have either never heard of, or are only vaguely familiar with.

And sadly/pleasingly there is no shorthand on Gelb: at times he brings to mind an alt.Willie Nelson, at others a more country-driven version of the Meat Puppets' desert-psychedelics, then he can be a soulful balladeer (with odd lyrics), a touch of Nick Cave, and on this typically diverse album he closes with a piano ballad Love a Loser, a duet with Lonna Kelly which has suggestions of an Irish song sung in a Western bar as Wyatt Earp and Clint Eastwood relax over a bottle of Red Eye.

The first half here are low, country-flavoured moods -- although he kicks in with the lightly folk-rocking Fields of Green ("They've been killing off my heroes since I was 17" which becomes "I've been killing off your heroes since you were 17").

101207_HoweGelbAirstreamBut he reconfigures country cliches (old chunk of coal, you don't miss your water etc) into something original, and offers understated delights like The Last One ("kiss your girl like it's the last time, feel the room swirl like it's your last ride") which could almost be a lounge ballad.

The tempo increases slowly (he's a smart cookie) and gets darker around the twanging Ride the Rail which refers to Johnny Cash guitar rhythms, and Lucky Star Love is country with an Elvis/Sun Studio echo and jazzy piano, Thin Line man is brittle Cave-like blues-rock . . .

Time Flies a lovely two and a half minute miniature and is the kind of country-jazz ballad you could imagine Chet Baker singing, or Bob Dylan picking up for a new album.

Howe Gelb is a rare talent and this album might just be a useful intro (for its diversity and scattering of great songs about people, places, pills and powder, bad and good love) before the whole slew of re-releases hits.

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