Howe Gelb
The Listener
/thrill jockey; 2003/



more info:

About a year ago our dear friend and occasional reviewer Humphrey Maurice was getting all excited about the release of two new Tom Waits albums, the marvelous Alice and the more cryptic Blood Money. Paradoxically, to me and probably a few number of friends, these records sounded refreshing despite the timelessness of the music. Most of the tracks from Alice would have sounded identical if they had been recorded 50 years ago, yet we thought it sounded much more original and beautiful than the latest Autechre.

About a week ago I was talking with a musical elitist terrorist of Howe Gelb, Giant Sand, Calexico and how weird it is to see that Calexico is slowly but surely getting attention while Giant Sand is known only by the most attentive listeners. The Listener isn't even a Giant Sand album. It's a Howe Gelb solo album. I guess he looks too serious to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. Britney and Christina sure don't have this problem.

Gelb is impressively productive and one of the problems with productive people (see Robert Pollard) is that they end up releasing a few self-indulgent albums filled with stupid, boring songs every year. So I was suspicious. But Gelb is not Pollard. First of all he looks better, his eyes filled with a boiling intensity only found in the restless artists' gaze. Americana, North and South. Felonious sounds like the kind of songs Lou Reed could write when he still had talent left. It shines like a black jewel polished by strings, a piano and Gelb's warm voice. The album is filled with jazzy atmospheres and Gelb's crooning voice. The Giant Sand albums I had heard before somehow disappointed me because most of them lacked cohesion. Too many ideas. On The Listener it feels like Gelb succeeded in focusing his creative energy. When the music gets a little more exotic it never ends up sounding like your local Tex Mex's Mariachi band. On Torque (Tango de la Tongue) a discreet accordion joins and a soft female voice whispers along. Piango starts in a bizarre fashion and then it sounds like Antonio Carlos Jobim. Sweetly exotic. I'll have another Vodka-lime please. Lying There could probably be a hit single with a few additional trumpets and a tasteless cold production. The beginning of B4U (do do do) kinda sounds like a lo-fi Bowie, circa 1998-2001, mainly because of the reeves gabrels guitar line and of the hesitation in Gelb's voice. But then it gets quieter and it sounds like a cool pop song. The album finishes quietly with beautiful, simple folk songs. Lemmy n Emmy is a beautiful closer, with impressively delicate arrangements and a fragile violin sweetly underlining the emotion in Gelb's voice.  


/mar 1st 2003/