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02 November 2008 @ 10:16 am
In Praise of Giant Sand  
One of the true pleasures of being a longtime music geek is discovering a great band with a deep back catalog that has somehow gone overlooked. This happens less and less as I get older, but it makes the thrill of discovery that much greater. This has happened to me recently with Giant Sand, a group from Tucson, AZ who sound exactly like what I think a band that has spent the last 25 years making music alone in the desert should - alternatively noisy and beautiful, everything drenched in heavy reverb over half-mumbled vocals filled dark, twisted lyrics that are both hilarious and deeply moving. How has it taken me this long to find these guys?

Calling Giant Sand a band is a bit of stretch, actually. It's one guy, Howe Gelb, with whoever he happens to be playing with at the moment. The confusing part is that he has also released solo albums under his own name, often with the same musicians who play in Giant Sand. What's the difference between a Giant Sand album and a Howe Gelb album? Only he knows for sure. He also plays in an instrumental band called Friends of Dean Martinez, a side project with Lisa Germano called OP8, a traditional country band called the Band of Blacky Ranchette, and probably four or five other projects that I haven't heard about yet. What I like about all this, in addition to the amazing music, is the idea of this eccentric and supremely talented individual spending a couple of decades hanging out in the desert with a group of his friends as they crank out music at a frightening pace without any regard for commercial viability. Listening to Howe Gelb's various incarnations feels a little like getting invited to a very cool party where anyone might show up at any moment. I'll be the first to admit that it's not all great (I'm having trouble getting into the stuff from the 80s, mainly because the production feels a bit, well, "80s") but, in my brief time combing through his catalog, I've found the mediocre to be far outweighed by the brilliant.

For the uninitiated who might be wondering what this all sounds like, I'd recommend starting with the most recent Giant Sand album, "Provisions" as well as a solo album Howe Gelb did with a gospel choir called "Sno Angel Like You." He also has a ton of semi-official live recordings - as both Giant Sand and Howe Gelb- up at archive.org that are well worth a listen.