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Rock - Released January 16, 2017 | Fire Records

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Rock - Released September 23, 2016 | Fire Records

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One of the first things that strikes you about Howe Gelb and 'Sno Angel's Like You or Howe Gelb's 'Sno Angel Like You, depending on how you wish to see the project , is that Gelb recorded this set with a gospel choir from Canada called Voices of Praise and he called the project "Sno Angel" and they made this record called "Like You." Anyway, you get the idea; it's one of the Arizona desert dweller's typically arcane musings. Gelb recorded this baby in Ottawa with drummer Jeremy Gara who now skins with Arcade Fire. There are a few other musicians hanging out and playing here as well; most notably Dave Draves on B-3 (Gelb plays one too), and Fred Guignon, who plays a mean slide guitar on six tracks. There are no gospel tunes here in the proper sense. This is a Howe Gelb record. You know -- slippery, loose, mistakes left in, hummable -- it's less quirky because the new tunes were written with the choir in mind. In addition to the seven new songs, there are a trio of Giant Sand tunes tossed in to be re-recorded, and three songs by the late Rainer Ptacek -- including his classic "Worried Spirits." The first thing that hits you is the sound of this disc. It's spacious, clean, and live-sounding. The basic tracks were recorded by Gelb and Gara and the choir was added later -- though not much later -- and it feels spontaneous. Gelb's voice is coming to resemble Ray Wylie Hubbard's in more ways than one, and it serves him well. Like You feels like an album, though some cuts stand out for their grit and funky delight, such as Ptacek's "That's How Things Get Done," with its shambolic distorted guitars and over-amped bassline. "But I Did Not" is Gelb's own attempt at writing a kind of gospel tune, though it comes off more as a gritty, rollicking blues. (When he asked the choir director if it would be possible to record with the Voices of Praise, the choir director said, "Sure, just keep it positive."). As treated here, Ptacek's "Worried Spirits" is a far cry from the spare, solo National Steel version that its composer recorded in the 1990s. Acoustic guitars get turned up to ten, the pace is quicker and it's still spooky but in a more urban way. The B-3 low-note triggers are a killer effect. The guitar break in the middle is simply psychotic. But the joy of the Voices of Praise is infectious, and they can not only tear it up vocally, but they way they dig into the feeling of the songs makes them feel so present here: they can offer a lamp in the desolation and darkness without cheap sentimentality. The tender "Neon Filler," first recorded on Giant Sand's Ramp, is dramatic -- even breathtaking. Gelb establishes the mood in the first half, spinning out his poetic tale, and when the choir enters it's simply stunning and turns the song inside out, moving the sadness up just a notch at first and then transforming it. Fans of Gelb's have to be excited about this because it's perfect, a career high. And for those who don't know who Gelb or Giant Sand are, but want something "extra" with their sun-drenched Americana, this is just the thing. In fact, it's just the thing for anybody who doesn't have sawdust running in their veins instead of blood. ~ Thom Jurek

Rock - Released November 2, 2012 | Fire Records

Buried within the album's liner notes, Howe Gelb thanks "all at V2, for allowing the structure to still make records like this." One listen to Hisser and there is no question what he is referring to. Gelb is on a mission to find a spontaneous approach to his music. This ideal encompasses every element from the tools and equipment used to the songs themselves and the way they are delivered. A "record like this" is one that didn't require a big budget, a New York recording studio, or an outside producer to shape and mold it. It's also the type of recording that allows Gelb to lay down the sort of half-formed songs a producer would fret over. Mostly recorded at Gelb's house, Hisser is an album that gladly lets its seams show. Like Robert Pollard, he isn't at all concerned with things like tape hiss (hence the title's declaration) or the cutting of loose ends, resulting in a sort of rootsy, Southwestern equivalent of Guided By Voices. Compounding the unfinished nature of the music is Gelb's overly casual performance style. It's as if the listener is a fly on the wall as he runs through the songs by himself. Despite this air of nonchalance, some moments work fairly well. Gelb clearly has a fondness for rhyme. He seems to take pleasure in the fact that, in order to achieve its effect, the results may border on the nonsensical. "Explore You" rests on the right side of that line with a lyrics like "There's a tree out in Nigeria/That harbors quiet hysteria/Most come for comfort and shade/Unaware of a cure for incurable bacteria." There is a sense of deeper meaning alluded to and for once, the weary quality of Gelb's singing adds to that sense. Like a home studio recluse, Gelb frequently achieves intriguing blends and contrasts of sound and texture. On "4 Door Maverick" he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Shades of accordion enter from below while over the surface a dusty piano is played, brought via time machine from 1930. The instruments of "Tanks Rolling Into Town" are soaked in foreign qualities, resulting in what sounds like a slice of near ancient film music. On Hisser, fairly complete songs ("This Purple Child," "Catapult," "Soldier of Fortune") are linked together by more fragmentary moments ("Living in a Waterfall," "Nico's Lil Opera"). This could be a satisfying combination if only the quality of the stronger material was slightly higher. What's frustrating is how close Gelb seems to making truly magical music on his own terms. ~ Nathan Bush

Rock - Released November 5, 2012 | Fire Records

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The Listener marks 20 idiosyncratic years of Howe Gelb on his own. His first solo effort, the cassette-only Incidental Music, hit the streets in 1983 and although he's issued other solo works since, he remains best known as the man behind Arizona's equally idiosyncratic Giant Sand and OP8 with Lisa Germano. Recorded primarily in Denmark (from where his second wife, Sophie Albertsen, hails), Gelb sounds as Southwestern as ever (even if he actually grew up in Pennsylvania). His distinctive voice has always come across like a dust-blown cross between Lou Reed, Neil Young, and Lee Hazlewood, but there's more jazzy piano and understated brass and strings here than rock & roll or country guitar. On "Felonious," Mr. "Home" as he's billed himself, even acknowledges the debt to Reed, while wishing he could play the keys more like Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk -- even if the melancholy number sounds more like Young's "After the Gold Rush." The overall mood is casual, laid-back, and relaxed. Just as Lee Hazlewood once titled an album, Cowboy in Sweden, The Listener could as easily have been titled "A (Space) Cowboy in Denmark." ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy

Rock - Released October 15, 2012 | Fire Records

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As the 20th century drew to a close, wayward tunesmith Howe Gelb witnessed a favorable reversal of fortune. Having been dropped by V2, he found a new home at Thrill Jockey and the album that followed, Giant Sand's Chore of Enchantment, became his greatest success. More importantly, the Chicago label provided the singer/songwriter some much needed stability and the freedom to craft albums according to his own peculiar whims. Not necessarily a formula for success, a similar environment produced 1998's Hisser, a collection of fragments that never coalesced. With Confluence however, all the pieces work together and, through some unexplainable alchemy, create a sum greater than any individual parts. Confluence has its share of bizarre moments both lyrically and musically. On "Pontiac Slipstream," Gelb links bluegrass legend Bill Monroe to speed metal and John F. Kennedy's assassination to Jimi Hendrix's famous pyrotechnics at the Monterey Pop Festival. On "Vex (Paris)," the singer is found backstage, teaching two French girls the song you are about to hear him perform ("Vex (Tucson)"). But every excursion lacking polish is balanced by something truly stunning. Gelb even manages to avoid over-sentimentality on a sublime reading of "I Can't Help Falling in Love." More than ever, the influence of Neil Young is palpable. Occasionally, the singer's spirit takes hold of Gelb's own voice in instances of eerie similarity. More often, Young's style is assimilated in a less obvious fashion. Gelb's music has an undeniable twist all its own. A spectrum of tones and textures intermingle in the production, occasionally protruding in attempt to disturb the balance. Only when stretching out on the closing "Hard on Things" and "Slide Away" does the music fail to soar the way one might hope. With the preceding material, Gelb proved capable of improving his craft, producing a work of rare beauty 20 years into his career. ~ Nathan Bush