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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

Jazz - Released March 8, 2019 | Fire Records

A few months after his 2016 announcement that he was putting Giant Sand on hiatus, Howe Gelb released Future Standards, a collection of low-key, jazzy tunes for piano and voice. While it didn't take long for Giant Sand to re-emerge with 2018's Return to Valley of Rain, Gelb appears to be committed to a more subdued approach as a solo artist, and 2019's Gathered is cut from cloth very similar to Future Standards. While the title refers to the fact these tracks were recorded at a variety of times and places with different accompanists, Gathered is consistently steeped in a relaxed, late-night mood, with Gelb half-singing, half-whispering his lyrics through the smoky grain of his instrument. Gelb duets with M. Ward on a cover of Leonard Cohen's "A Thousand Kisses Deep," and Gelb's performance beautifully recalls the rough yet seductive spirit of Cohen's original, possessing much of the same charm and a very similar resonance. Gelb may sound laidback here, but he's clearly committed, and the full-bodied charisma of his delivery and the witty, often impressionistic wordplay of his lyrics is made to order for the late-night mood of these arrangements. Gelb also brings aboard some worthy collaborators on this album, including the iconic French actress and singer Anna Karina and less famous but similarly gifted vocalists Kira Skov and Pieta Brown (the latter on a tune called "Gathered," written for the wedding of the son of Gelb's late musical colleague Rainer Ptacek). Gelb even makes it a family affair by letting his daughter Talula Gelb take the lead vocal on a lovely rendition of "Moon River." Even though Gathered is very much a creative patchwork, it coheres thematically as well as musically, and sounds both sly and sincere. Howe Gelb's evolution from the most distinctive roots rocker in the desert to Arizona's most unlikely lounge singer is coming along nicely, and Gathered is a welcome addition to his catalog. ~ Mark Deming

Vocal Jazz - Released December 1, 2017 | Fire Records

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One year after Giant Sand was put to bed, the faithful and prolific leader Howe Gelb carried on down the classy and experimental route. Martinis and blue smoke evaporate from Further Standards, an intensification of the preceding Future Standards from which he took the compositions back to the studio or the stage. We also find two new tracks here; Presumptuous and All You Need To Know to open the album. But the real added value of the work resides in the omnipresence of Lonna Kelly, who has already appeared on Terribly So, A Book You’ve Read Before and even Blurry Blue Mountain (2010) with Giant Sand. On the guitar, we find Naïm Amor, Thøger Lund on the bass and Andrew Collberg on the drums. Within the atmosphere of a hushed club that’s frozen in the 1940/50s with Nat King Cole and Hoagy Carmichael, the throaty voice of the Tuscan prince finds a notable echo in Kelly’s whispered and velvety vocals. Vulnerable and cavalier, these evocations of antagonizing love should be consumed at nightfall. With moderation. © CS/Qobuz

Rock - Released January 16, 2017 | Fire Records

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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

Folk/Americana - Released May 18, 2018 | Microcultures

As if to complete his triptych that started with Future Standards and Further Standards, Howe Gelb now brings us Gathered. This time, the sensual vocals of Lonna Kelly have been replaced by four other musicians. Firstly, on Not The End Of The World Gelb’s husky vocals are accompanied by Godard’s muse Anna Karina, who made her comeback in 2017. Gelb’s daughter Talula then features on the classy Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, with its flawless piano and vocals. The Danish rocker Kira Skov (Kira and The Kindred Spirits) turns her rocker roots on their head on the elegant Presumptuous and finally Gelb is joined in a duet with Pieta Brown in the title-track Gathered with its mellow folk and acoustic guitar. Through his covers and original pieces, the Prince of Tucson shows us his personal connection with singing. The hushed atmosphere of a jazz club alternates with simplistic, melancholic ballads in this international effort between Paris, Spain, Dublin and Tucson. © Charlotte Saintoin/Qobuz

Jazz - Released November 25, 2016 | Fire Records

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Jazz - Released May 5, 2017 | Fire Records

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Jazz - Released December 16, 2016 | Fire Records

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Country - Released December 7, 2018 | Fire Records

Jazz - Released | Fire Records

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In February 2016, Howe Gelb made the surprising announcement that he was retiring his longtime project Giant Sand, and while he didn't offer specifics about what he was going to do next, he did end his statement with the words, "Piano for now. Songs forever." Those five words turned out to be an excellent summation of Future Standards, an album that Gelb issued roughly ten months later. Future Standards finds the great Arizona surrealist transforming himself into an alternate world version of Frank Sinatra, singing his own brand of saloon songs suitable for a late night and a glass of good bourbon. Most of Future Standards features Gelb accompanied by piano, bass, and drums, and the melodies pay unironic tribute to the graceful jazz-influenced pop sounds of the '40s and '50s. This is music meant for a cabaret or a piano lounge, not a rock club, and Gelb not only plays it straight, he sounds comfortable and playfully sly as he croons over his piano work, which manages to embrace the melodies while toying with them at the same time, while the drummer stirs the soup and the bassist gently tends to the low end. While this sounds very little like Giant Sand, this is very much a Howe Gelb album; the lyrics, most dealing with affairs of the heart, are gentler than many of his best known works, but there's still an edge of purposeful eccentricity that's authentically his in tunes like "May You Never Fall in Love," "Terribly So," and "Mad Man at Large." And the occasional vocal interjections of Lonna Kelley add a romantic touch while maintaining an off-kilter feel that serves this music remarkably well. Future Standards isn't quite "Howe Gelb, the Moonlight, and You," but it's closer than anyone might expect, and he plays lounge lizard here entirely on his own terms, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable detour for a multi-faceted artist. ~ Mark Deming