Giant Sand: The Love Songs (Fire)

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Giant Sand: Wearing the Robes of Bible Black
Giant Sand: The Love Songs (Fire)

One of the most interesting (and lengthy) interviews at Elsewhere this year has been with Howe Gelb of Giant Sand. During that long and digressive conversation I asked Gelb which albums of the massive reissue campaign of his 25 year career he would recommend to newcomers.

He singled out Center of the Universe of '92 saying it was the post-separation album and the only one where he could live as he liked (out in the desert just writing songs). After that he had to come back in and hunker down putting a child into school.

That child was the baby in the background of this album from '88 and so the sessions in LA were alternating with feeding times and baby watching, and -- more pressing -- drummer John Convertino only having 45 minutes to do the songs because he had a gig with another band, Insect Surfers.

"So we played all the songs faster to fit them in before he had to leave."

That isn't to say this is Giant Sand in thrash mode, far from it.

Here are songs haunted by the spirit and railroad rhythms of Johnny Cash (Wearing the Robes of Bible Black), the expansive One Man' Woman/No Man's Land ("An epic. I could've quit after this one. It had everything I ever wanted in a song recorded"), the urgent and fragmented Mad Dog a Man (think the Replacements, or Iggy Pop gone rockin' country).

Fingernail Moon, Barracuda and Me on the other hand is essentially a solo session: "Recording on [bassist Paula J Brown's] 4 track cassette and synth while i was trying not to wake the baby from her nap. The synth horns blare in my headphones while I have to record the vocals in a whisper." It sounds like a strange Lou Reed mystery story.

There is dark blues-rock (Mountain of Love), atonal ballads with a Dylanesque bent (Almost the Politician's Wife) and wheel-spinning rock (The Doors).

It also goes a bit Zappa after the mid-point with the partly spoken/oddball jazz cabaret Is That All There Is?, the soundtrack-like snippet Clump, the industrial funk cover of the Temptations' Get Ready and the strange Murky Dew Red.

Then there is the mockery of the Major Glorious Ending Theme with that baby crying (and two bonus tracks, one an outtake of Famous Politician's Wife).

This is two thirds of a terrific album with the good stuff stacked up front.

Pity Convertino couldn't have given Gelb another 15 minutes.

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