Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies. Alegrias

As the mainstay of Giant Sand Howe Gelb has slowly, over the past twenty years or so, built up a reputation as one of the stalwarts of what we call Americana. Whether with the shifting line up of Giant Sand or solo he has blistered, strummed, crooned and goofed around on over thirty albums. His star shone most brightly however with the release of ‘Sno Angel, an album recorded in Canada with a gospel choir that garnered rave reviews and exposed him, however briefly, to a wider audience. The album was a mixture of familiar old songs and some new ones but the relatively straightforward renditions (by Gelb standards) showed him to be a great writer and performer.
Five years on and he’s done it again, this time in Cordoba, Spain with a cast of gypsy (their description) musicians. The flashing guitars, flamenco stylings and sheer brio enhance another brace of songs from his back catalogue that is wildly exuberant and brimful with an effortless sense of cool. The overall feel is of an informal “juerga, where flamenco musicians jam together enjoying the music and each other’s company and according to the press this is what happened when Gelb stumbled across these musicians essentially flamenco star Raimundo Amador’s group. While many folks notion of flamenco is that of The Gypsy Kings’ flamboyant Bamboleo, this is a more measured, slower, sexier traditional sound, not too far removed from the Mexican influences which abound in Gelb’s home town of Tucson.
The reworkings of songs such as Uneven Light of day, Always Horses Coming and Where The Wind Turns The Skin Into Leather are recognisable as Giant Sand songs but the loose limbed renditions evoke lazy sunny siestas, mañana made musical. Gelb’s voice has never sounded better, weathered smooth into a sexy, sultry croon. Along with the remakes there are several new songs written in Cordoba, none better than Broken Bird & The Ghost River. This beauty floats and shimmers with a female chorus that evokes the best of sixties Euro pop.
All in all this should be the album of the summer, heard in pavement cafes and town squares and on a hi-fi near you.
Alegrias means “joy,” you can read a great interview with Gelb here where he describes the genesis of the album and you can buy it here
Broken Bird and the Ghost River

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