Giant Sand Giant SandBlurry Blue Mountain
Howe Gelb’s career is impressive for how prolific it is, although it might not seem like it, with slow turtle-like steps it has been plotted. Besides countless works as Giant Sand, he has represented Arizona Amp and Alternator, The Band of Blacky Ranchette, and the project with Lisa Germano and the members of Calexico and the former member of Giant Sand OP8, as well as having declined the offer of a public defender, and getting into the ring as he has in his individual works, the risky ones, to and for the pleasure of his unconditional fans. We’ve seen him put out flamenco-Americana albums like “Alegrías” (2010), accompanied by Raimundo Amador, or experiments on the piano perhaps emulating Thelonius Monk, like his double “Lull Some Piano” and “Ogle Some Piano” (2001 and 2004, respectively), with covers so ugly that they seem to have been ripped off from an old, discoloured cassette. We’ve also seen him fall and be dragged for a long time by a wave of more generic country and little by little, with the patience of a turtle, as we said, he is earning the place that he deserves. He has even allowed himself the luxury of re-issuing his 1985 debut with a CD and a record (some of his new fans weren’t even born when it came out), called “Valley of Rain”, and those on Fire Records seem to want to re-master and re-release about 30 of his works (you know, adding a bonus track and all of that paraphernalia, who can blame them?), so at least “Blurry Blue Mountain” (with a cover reminiscent of the ‘85 debut) must be a sentimental issue, a semi-homage earned by working and persevering, and probably, without wishing to seem negative, more of the same.
We can declare that “Blurry Blue Mountain” is in the middle of the road if we are talking about the quality of composition. There is a little of everything, but nothing stands out, although it gives the feeling that the songs as a whole are going to explode from one moment to the next and turn into a great song or two. Deciding whether there are timeless songs in this album, then, will be a question of the particular tastes and aesthetics of the band’s fans. With respect to the genre, nevertheless, there is no disappointment: we have a mixture that is a veritable smorgasbord. Self-satisfied Americana that doesn’t have too much brilliantine in the arrangement ( “Fields of Green”), a graft to meet the country quota for big, down-home clubs ( “Ride the Rail”, where Gelb dresses up like Corb Lund and talks about the Molly Maguires), and two major ballads, “No Tellin’” and “Erosion”, which complement a dark part present in “Thin Line Man” (the most stylistically satisfying and liberated song on the album, which recalls Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds) and in “Better than me” (oral narration, once again very Cave).
It’s true that Gelb’s voice seems to be a hindrance, as he is incapable of interpreting at all (a flagrant example is how atonal and distant he is in “Chunk of Coal”, a bar song disguised as a tavern), and at times he gives us the feeling of being in a session with friends ( “The Last One”). To be cruel, “Monk’s Mountain” is what Mark Knopfler would do now if Dire Straits were to get back together (it’s a long song, almost instrumental, with spoken singing and guitars with a fattened sound towards the end, only the virtuoso solo is missing). The references and collaborations work in his favour in “Lucky Star Love” (duet with Lonna Kelley) and in Mark Lanegan’s decaffeinated sham in “Spell Bound”, but it isn’t enough. Playing with the genre, for someone with excellent marks like Gelb, is not the crown jewels here. The biggest surprise is once again discovering great songs based on feeling and supported by the right, appropriate basses (the charming blues melody of, yes, a real, welcoming bar, with the American flag hanging there, in “Time Flies”) and a great song like “Stranded Pearl” from the excellent predecessor “proVISIONS” (2008), here placed at the end of the album, with a last slap in the face given with all of the class in the world (which also calls to mind the style of some of Cave’s works, like “Murder Ballads”, which ended with a slow, compassionate, almost choral song, to soften things a little bit). We’re talking about “Love a Loser”. If you want, listen to the album knowing the incredible past that Gelb brings with him. Or if you prefer, and this is a personal recommendation, start at the end, with “Love a Loser,” as if Giant Sand were a band of unknown rookies in a far-off, lost place called Tucson, in Arizona.
Giant Sand - Fields Of Green Giant Sand - Lucky Star Love