Giant Sand: Ramp (Fire/Southbound)

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Always Horses Coming
Giant Sand: Ramp (Fire/Southbound)
Whether with Giant Sand or any number of his various vehicles (Giant Giant Sand, Melted Wires etc) and many albums under his own name, Howe Gelb has carved a quite singular path in music which can be earthy and windblown country-influenced Dylanesque rock or framed within Spanish music or more along the lounge singer axis or . . .

Wherever the mood and direction took him.

The on-going Fire Records reissue of his albums is always worth following and this re-release found him in '91 with newcomer Joey Burns on upright bass (later to leave to form Calexico with band member John Convertino) alongside Victoria Williams, the great Rainer Ptacek and 74-year old Pappy Allen on a pedal steel weeping version of Welcome to My World, which is admittedly unexpected on an album which bristles with rock guitars and highway driving country pop-rock in other places.

Giant Sand could lean towards a country-rock version of the Stooges (Romance of Falling with Gelb's ex-wife and Go-Go Paula Jean Brown on backing vocals) or Gelb adopt a dispassionate Lou Reed-like delivery (Neon Filler).

But also they could bring in Gelb's little daughter Indiosa who sings a snatch of Heart's Barracuda on Patsy's Blues as a kind of juvenile Yoko as well as an almost hokey country outing on Wonder with Williams on banjo and Ptacek turning it on its head in the final minutes with an abrasive, psychedelic guitar solo.

There's a retro-Stones/Sixties garage-band touch on ZZ Quicker Foot, pure country on Seldom Matters and Resolver (other than in Gelb's wry lyrics) and the urgent, menacingly mysterious Always Horses Coming wouldn't sound out of place on a ramshackle Neil Young/Crazy Horse album.

Reissued as a double vinyl, Ramp comes with an extra album of casual studio sessions from the time.

045954Ramp is an unfocused but fun, wide and deep album which covers a lot of musical, lyrical and emotional territory – a kind of sonic insight into Gelb's many interests and influences – but not the easiest or most coherent entry point for the casual or curious.

However for a Gelb aficionado – which Elsewhere unashamedly is – Ramp rewards, especially the extra album where it sounds like you've stumbled into revolving door, loose-limbed rehearsals and sessions of the electric Band, acoustic Crazy Horse, a piano-bar lounge singer just blown in from Arizona, the Replacements, a stoner band from the Sixties . . .

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This album comes as a double vinyl release through Southbound Records in Auckland. See here.

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Elsewhere has reviewed a number of albums by Giant Sand, Howe Gelb etc here and there is a substantial interview with Gelb here.


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