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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Fire Records

Every few years for more than 20 years now, Howe Gelb and company emerge from the Arizona desert (and/or Denmark) to offer up another Giant Sand album. Provisions is their 16th or so, and it's more of the same desert-fried late-night country-rock poetry. Gelb's sense of wordplay and rhyming is as unique as his close-miked sprechstimme. His production eccentricities have been smoothed out a bit and the album is on the mellow side for about the first two-thirds or so. Things really kick into gear for the last part of the album when the energy picks up and the production gets a bit more elaborate, finishing the album on a high note. An oddball project, Giant Sand have kicked around from label to label for decades, but they've always managed to do things their way. Provisions is Gelb's vision, and it's been remarkably clear for a good long time now. ~ Sean Westergaard

Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | Fire Records

Rock - Released August 10, 2018 | Fire Records

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In early 2016, Howe Gelb announced that, three decades after the release of Giant Sand's first album, he decided the time had come to retire his long-running alt-country band, issuing a statement in which he declared, "30 years seems an adequate number to aptly utter 'I kinda quit.'" Apparently, that qualifying "kinda" was included for a good reason, and in the fall of 2018, Gelb revealed he had put together a new lineup of Giant Sand and was returning to duty. But where to start over? From the beginning, obviously, and the first album from Gelb's new incarnation of the group, Returns to Valley of Rain, finds him re-recording the 11 tunes from Giant Sand's 1985 debut, Valley of Rain. Exactly why Gelb would make a fresh start by revisiting a handful of songs he cut in the mid-'80s is hard to fathom, especially since he and his bandmates attack these songs in a manner that's noticeably different than the original recordings but not so much that it qualifies as reinvention. If the production on Valley of Rain marks it as a product of the era of too much digital reverb, Returns boasts a cleaner and more direct sound, and the vague jangle of the 1985 recordings is replaced by a harder, buzzier guitar attack; remarkably, Giant Sand sound more like a rough-and-tumble garage band in 2018 than they did the first time they cut these tunes. The guitar attack of Gelb, Gabriel Sullivan, and Annie Dolan is scrappy but full-bodied, and drummer Winston Watson and bassists Thøger T. Lund and Scott Garber hit hard enough without overpowering the natural dynamics of the performances. And there's a welcome spontaneity to the sessions that flatters the dusty introspection of Gelb's lyrics and the determined drift of the melodies. Figuring out the why of Returns to Valley of Rain is probably fruitless, but if Gelb wants to move forward into the past with Giant Sand, at least he's doing so with style and swagger. ~ Mark Deming

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1999 | Fire Records

Moving to the renowned Chicago indie label Thrill Jockey didn't bring a tremendous change to Giant Sand's sound on their album, Chore of Enchantment. Aside from a couple of punkier numbers with thumping drum loops and noisy guitars, the music is mostly restrained and rootsy, its elegiac quality perfectly suited to the record's emotional backdrop -- the cancer-related death of guitarist Rainer Ptacek, who does appear here with a touching slide-guitar instrumental that closes the record. However, the often rudimentary melodies outlined by Gelb's dry vocals don't help make Chore of Enchantment an incredibly accessible record to those outside the group's cult. Many of the songs tend to drift by without grabbing hold, more about atmosphere and Gelb's poetry than anything else. Some cuts underscore Gelb's haunted, lonely desert hallucinations with organ and Mellotron, to a nicely otherworldly effect; the full, fleshed-out sound on these tracks provides the most satisfying listening here. Fans will be glad to have Giant Sand carrying on after Ptacek's tragic departure. ~ Steve Huey

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2004 | Fire Records

It was four years since the last album from Giant Sand (Cover Magazine doesn't really count), and Howe Gelb is still making albums to please himself. Which is as it should be, since no one makes records that sound quite like this: a shambolic, atmospheric mixture of hushed tones, deadly distortion, tender poetics, and rock & roll. There are some new members in the Giant Sand family, but they sound just as versatile and fit just as well as the too-busy members of Calexico, Joey Burns and John Covertino. The songs are great, featuring Gelb's often near-whispered vocals, pretty resonant piano, acoustic guitars, and some of the most crushing distortion ever recorded (which is likely to appear and disappear almost anywhere). Take the lovely "Classico," where the guitar solo is traded off between an acoustic nylon-string guitar and an electric with the amp turned up WAY past 11, or the multitude of hairy guitars in "NYC of Time" that disappear, giving way to a very nice piano segment. Gelb's voice gets the distorto treatment on "Remote," and "Drab" has some fine buzzing prepared piano. But it's not all about distortion (which really comes and goes); there's an acoustic element to every track and most of these songs would work as purely acoustic pieces. "Rag" is just a piano rag with drums, and "Les Forçats Innocents" is not only sung in French, but has a tasty mandolin accompaniment. And only Howe Gelb would have the good sense to include a Sex Pistols/Waylon Jennings medley. Almost 20 years on, and Howe Gelb and his Giant Sand compatriots have made concessions to no one, and if you're a fan, that's a very good thing. ~ Sean Westergaard

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1991 | Fire Records

RAMP was the second of three stellar albums released by Giant Sand at the beginning of the '90s. It was preceded by SWERVE and followed by CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. Excellent material and sympathetic, energetic playing unify the trio. Leader Howe Gelb's songs can be anthemic ("Romance of Falling"), or can quietly celebrate small and delicate moments ("Wonder"). Guest Victoria Williams' harmony vocals on the former make for a bracing mix. Band friend Pappy Allen sings "Welcome to My World," giving an impassioned commitment to every phrase that is mirrored in the band's supple support. Surprises are to be found within almost every song, as well as in the construction of the album as a whole, which follows its own sort of hallucinogenic logic. This album and its two bookends make perfect starting points.

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1992 | Fire Records

The whole thing kicks off with one of Giant Sand's heaviest tunes ever -- "Seeded ('Twixt Bone and Bark)," a massive head-nodder of a metal psych track, with some of Gelb's best soloing work leading the way. With that as one promising beginning, the band, now more or less officially Gelb, Convertino, and bassist Joe Burns, assays another fascinating set of desert-fried rock & roll, serving up one winner after another on this excellent album. Gelb's knack for roping in talented guests again pays off -- Victoria Williams takes a bow, while Chris Cacavas on keyboards (kudos for his work on "Off Ramp Man") and the Psycho Sisters (of all people, Susan Cowsill and ex-Bangles member Vicki Peterson) crop up throughout. As before, though, it's the core group's show, and they once again do the business. Gelb's singing and performing style remains relatively unchanged, but the focus of the songs generally is on a more specifically rock style, though certainly tinged by the country focus he's always had, most obviously on "Unwed and Well Sped." Still, it's not the twang and jangle on "Pathfinder" or "Live to Tell" which takes center stage, it's the sprawling, howling feedback, again shaped by Gelb into just the way he wants it: warm rather than overpowering and suddenly stopping and starting when the need calls for it. Convertino and Burns, now two albums along into their own partnership that would eventually lead to Calexico, make for a great performing unit, able to serve up both straight-up rhythms and weird and wiggy bits in equal aplomb. More heavy-duty zoneouts crop up thanks to the title track (with a hilarious introduction from Williams), the aggressive blast of "Sonic Drive In" (complete with goony high vocals), and the jaunty-but-loud joy "Thing Like That." Meanwhile, odd little fun can be had with the piano-only snippet "Thurst," the sweetly strange "Milkshake Girl," and the unlisted bonus track "Goin' Down to Mexico." ~ Ned Raggett

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1986 | Fire Records

Howe Gelb was still sorting out what he was doing with Giant Sand when the band recorded its second album, 1986's Ballad of a Thin Line Man, but while it's still rooted in the same sort of rough-and-tumble neo-paisley underground rock as the group's debut, Valley of Rain (released earlier the same year), it sounds a bit more like what Giant Sand would become than its predecessor. The opening cuts ("Thin Line Man" and a hot-wired cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower") set the mood with their frantic guitar bashing, their dramatic dynamics ("Thin Line Man" features a dramatic dubwise passage at the midpoint and "Watchtower" opens with a little more than a minute of fiddle scrapings and guitar atmospherics), and Gelb's tough but quizzical songwriting and vocals. But the ambling acoustic tone of "Graveyard" and "Who Am I?," the loopy piano plunking on "Last Legs," and the folk-rock undercurrents of "The Chill Outside" offer clues that Gelb had musical ambitions that flowed in several different directions at once. The addition of Paul Jean Brown gave Giant Sand a two-guitar lineup on these sessions (though Rainer Ptacek, Gelb's finest guitar foil, had yet to go into the studio with the band), and the raucous tone of Gelb and Brown's guitar duels makes the band's rock gestures significantly more exciting. And bassist Scott Garber and drummer Tom Larkins are a more solid and muscular rhythm section their second time out, even if these sessions still sound a touch chaotic. And while two high-profile covers are featured here -- "All Along the Watchtower" and Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" -- this album is still a very clear reflection of Gelb's musical mind and personality, and he fills both songs with his own spirit. Ballad of a Thin Line Man documents a band that hadn't yet reached greatness, but was well on its way to something special. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released June 28, 2019 | Fire Records


Alternative & Indie - Released April 27, 2015 | Fire America


Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1993 | Fire Records

In comparison to the previous few Giant Sand records, Purge and Slouch was an exercise in recording almost for the heck of it, with a loose lineup of eight other performers, with Rainer Ptacek again back in the fold for a bit, assisting the Gelb/Convertino/Burns trio. The liner notes explain the casual nature of the whole thing, which was in fact recorded in the living room, guest bedroom, and porch of one Harvey Moltz, who helped record it all. Gelb himself sounded bemused at the end results, but, taking it as it is, Purge and Slouch is a fun treat; a lengthy release (nearly a full CD's worth) with an agreeably relaxed vibe. Any guesses that the home-based recording and seemingly informal atmosphere would result in nothing but acoustic hoedowns are abolished with the opening drum slam and feedback screech of "Slander." With that as a wake-up call, things generally take a calmer turn for the remainder of the album, touching on both unplugged shuffles and subtly electrified approaches, including some intriguingly nervous, edgy efforts like the amusingly titled "Santana, Castaneda and You." Unsurprisingly, there's also a fair amount of sheer weirdness, like the very odd tape collage "Overture (Part 1)," and sharp, wry humor, like the barbed lament on cultural cooptation "Elevator Music," one of the few times where everybody fully rocks out for a bit. There's one cover on the album -- a brief, murky take on Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" that's one of the more unusual such remakes around -- while another strong point is the lengthy, haunting "Corridor," with backing vocals from previous Giant Sand guests Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson. Combine that with a variety of fragments and a generally loose atmosphere, and, while Purge and Slouch won't be the album to immediately convince a Giant Sand newcomer, fans will find it an engaging listen. Best song title of the bunch -- "Song of the Accountants." ~ Ned Raggett

Alternative & Indie - Released October 11, 2010 | Fire Records


Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1990 | Fire Records

Pop - Released October 28, 2008 | Yep Roc Records

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Rock - Released March 25, 2015 | New West Records

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Rock - Released May 4, 2015 | New West Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 21, 2011 | Fire Records

Cover Magazine is like a primer on long-running Arizona institution Giant Sand: a mix of highbrow and lowbrow influences rendered with exquisite musicianship, all saturated by the hushed, plainspoken vocals of Howe Gelb. Over the years, this revolving cast of characters has been compared to everyone from Bob Dylan to Neil Young (with or without Crazy Horse), but the strongest resemblance on this live outing is to the Band (Gelb even sounds a bit like Robbie Robertson) -- assuming the Band would have covered songs like "Iron Man" and "The Beat Goes On" (twice). Gelb and company aren't making fun of the material, however; the Sabbath standard is performed in a jazzy manner with piano, conga drums, and mournful trumpet, and there's nothing particularly jokey about it. If anything, the unusual rendition brings out the pathos in the lyrics. Other notable covers include "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline," a duet with PJ Harvey (her own "Plants and Rags" also gets the run-through), and a blistering version of Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand." Further guest appearances: Neko Case and Kelly Hogan provide backing vocals on a medley of "Wayfaring Stranger/Fly Me to the Moon" and Grandaddy's Jim Fairchild helps out on Gelb's own "Blue Marble Girl." ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy