Howe Gelb. Erika Wennerstrom. Stereo, Glasgow. Sunday 19th June


Ever the maverick, Howe Gelb returned to Glasgow to perform what was billed as a solo piano show, reports of the demise of his long-standing moveable feast of a band, Giant Sand trailing behind him. Gelb’s no stranger to performing solo and has been known in the past to drop his regular show if there’s a piano sharing the stage with him while scattered within his dauntingly large back catalogue are four albums of piano music (Lull Some Piano, Ogle Some Piano, Spun Some Piano and Snarl Some Piano should you wish to pursue them).  In almost any other case these discs would stand out as oddities or vanity projects, in the weird happenstance world of Gelb they are simply another outlet for his restless quest in search of another note, another way to capture the sounds around him, molecules of music I believe he once described them.

Anyhow, as Howe aficionados will know, the night was up for grabs, no one sure what to expect. This has caused frustration in the past, audiences puzzled by his somewhat gnomic utterances, his lack of a set list and detours which have seen him singing along to Kylie Minogue records. Tonight the first impression on entering the venue was somewhat surprising, the cellar venue, grungy to say the least and usually home to hot and sweaty shows with plastic beer glasses spilled due to jostles had seating set out with the front rows set out cabaret style, tables with candles lit. Sure enough there was a solitary upright piano up there, stage left, a chair also which led to the initial pantomime acted out by Gelb as he appeared on stage, sat down and unimpressed left the stage to look for another perch. He soon reappeared with another chair, a very similar chair in fact and spent some time clowning around trying to set up his seating. One had the feeling that at this point “serious rock fans” would be muttering and complaining but tonight it seemed that the audience were attuned to the man and his antics drew serious laughter, a phenomenon that continued through the night as Gelb turned in a show that recalled memories of Victor Borge, the Danish keyboard prodigy who turned classical music into a comedy routine.

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Gelb’s target tonight was not the Minute Waltz but what we can consider The Great American Songbook and in particular those which are considered piano based jazz standards. Announcing that the night was to be devoted to his next recording, Future Standards, his foray into that weird world where serious jazz musicians rub shoulders with cocktail classics he proceeded to play an immensely impressive Cry Me A River. His croon was more than a match for Julie London’s torch singing, his playing displaying the occasional nod to the angular twists and dissonant chords of Thelonious Monk. Like Borge, Gelb was into explaining the music saying that almost any song can be turned into a cocktail standard before performing his own song Shiver with occasional ragtime and bop keyboard interludes. Well into his stride he then performed several songs from the forthcoming album, some sounding like Jack Kerouac performing with Steve Allen, others more cocktail jazz with Gelb asking the barmaid at the back if she knew how to mix a Martini. On Terribly So he stopped, explained that the song really needed a bass and drum rhythm before hauling out his Smartphone, dialling it to the studio recording therein and proceeded to duet with the phone held to the mic as he sang along and tinkled some ivory. Classic Gelb here.

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Aside from Victor Borge Gelb also summoned up the ghost of Chico Marx with his keyboard mannerisms but it was Chico’s brother Harpo who loomed large as Gelb stood up and removed the piano’s lid and front exposing the strings. Harpo famously wrecked a piano in the movie A Day At The Races, eventually pulling the strings from the piano carcass and using it as a harp. Gelb didn’t go so far as that but his plucking of the strings added to the occasional dissonance of his playing, his version of John Cage’s prepared piano.

He started with a cover and ended the set with another. This time Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep with his very fine croon a suitable match for Cohen’s voice and a fine ending to a show that, aside from the  comedy and verbal musings, allowed Gelb’s undisputed talent to shine. Show almost over Gelb did strap on his guitar for a fine rendition of Paradise Here Abouts (from the Sno Angel Like You album) before finishing with the wonderful Wind Blown Waltz, an opportunity to show that he can be as idiosyncratic on guitar as on piano but again a reminder that he is a supremely gifted songwriter.

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Erika Wennerstrom, singer with Cincinatti band The Heartless Bastards, opened the show. A diminutive figure she has a big voice and she played several songs from her band including Marathon. Here she didn’t need the band accompaniment, her guitar shimmering and trebly as she intoned the lyrics. She struggled with the sound at times, her guitar almost booming and threatening to feedback but as she said to the audience this was a first time solo outing and she was still finding her feet. I Could Be So Happy was a fine performance, her voice recalling the primal tones of Patti Smith.

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There’s time to catch more Gelb at the piano here.


Marianne Dissard. Cibola Gold – Best Of 2008-2015


Marianne Dissard is probably best known as a sometime collaborator with several bands from the Tucson scene including Giant Sand and Calexico; most notably, she is the femme fatale on Calexico’s Ballad Of cable Hogue. A noted filmmaker and photographer in addition to being a chanteuse, Dissard recorded three albums in Tucson, the last being The Cat, Not Me along with two albums in what she calls her City Series, Paris One Takes and Cologne Vier Takes. Last year she relocated to Europe and this collection, culled from the above albums, is something of a farewell to her American years.

Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed L’Entredeux and The Cat, Not Me, albums that steered a course between European (and in particular French) pop tradition and American guitar rock. Despite the plethora of Tucson musicians the overall sense was of a continental bent, Serge Gainsbourg being an obvious touchstone, Dissard singing in French (and occasionally German), her voice usually somewhat sultry in the grand manner of the likes of Juliette Greco and Francoise Hardy.  Her lyrics (handily translated on her website) sensual, poetic, dark, a mix of Rimbaud and French argot. Above all her words were wrapped in a polyglottal musical language, Mariachi, twang guitars and Chanson all thrown into the pot and this collection is a fine reflection of that.

The 13 songs gathered here are each and every one reason to make the listener search out the albums they are taken from. Dissard roams from the opening accordion jollity of Les Draps Sourds, the Bal Musette setting disguising the lusty goings on in the lyrics, to the nightmarish claustrophobia of Tortue. She almost purrs on the magnificent Pomme, a song that initially recalls Parisian cobbled streets before a grand, almost prog, middle eight weighs in. On the rock side there’s some ferocious guitar squabbles on the driving The One And Only, another fine guitar solo on the thrilling Election and Trop Express oozes sensuality over a funky Hammond organ riff. However Dissard can also come across like a Gallic Nico back in her Chelsea Girl days on the string laden acoustic ballad Cayenne or conjure up a glistening bucolic world on the sublime Les Confetttis. The crowning glory perhaps is the meandering musical map of Un Gros Chat with its spooky bowed saw and splashing cymbals, the lyrics abstractly erotic, Dissard like a whispered siren drawing listeners into her realm.

The album is an excellent entree into the weird and wonderful world of Ms. Dissard, a dizzying potpourri of sensual frissons seasoned with some wonderful music. The package itself is worth delving into. Packed full of pictures , tributes, poems and snippets of correspondence from the Tucson days it gives a measure of Dissard’s time there. In addition, with the deluxe package, Ms. Dissard has liberally garlanded each CD with golden confetti, some of which is still cluttering up the keyboard here.




Howe Gelb interview

2015 marks 30 years of Giant Sand, the protean band that has been the primary vehicle for Howe Gelb’s restless sonic journey over three decades. Through various incarnations from duo to 12 piece (aka Giant Giant Sand) Gelb has steered the band’s unique path and also found time to release solo albums and recordings under various names (including The Band Of Blacky Ranchette, OP8, and Arizona Amp & Alternator). Heartbreak Pass, released on New West Records on 4th May is the latest Giant Sand offering with Gelb explaining that the album is an attempt of sorts to celebrate the band’s twists and turns. “There are three volumes of 15 songs here representing living two lives for 30 years” adding “Don’t do the math. It doesn’t figure.” Featuring the current Giant sand line up along with contributions from artists scattered across the globe (Tucson, Portland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Bristol) much of the album was recorded at pit stops as Gelb criss crossed the Atlantic over the past year before being mixed by John Parish in Bristol. Over the course of the album Gelb is joined by the likes of Grant Lee Phillip, Steve Shelley, Jason Lytle, Maggie Bjorklund, Sacri Cuori and The Voices Of Praise Gospel Choir. Gelb was back in Bristol earlier this month for a preview showing of another project he’s involved with, Out Of The Desert, a documentary of the last Giant Giant Sand tour filmed by Peter Triest. We managed to hook up with Howe by telephone as he travelled back to London by train the day after the screening. Despite a poor connection and a lot of background noise Howe began by talking about the film screening the previous night.

It was really good, it went down well. It was a preview, testing to see the audience reaction….how well it’s coming along. He’s (Peter Triest) put it all together with his own money, his own investment before he does a kickstarter or whatever you do now to finish it properly, get a final edit. The first half of last night was me doing a solo set with John Parish on drums and the second half was the film screening. It’s a film of the tour we last did with the big band and then there’s my narration over it. He took excerpts of me reading my tour journal, each passage relating to a show. Now he has to see how it works, maybe trim it down a little bit. I think if he wants it to have a broader scale he needs to make it a film that doesn’t just preach to the choir. I think it’s a hard job to make a film like this entertaining.

Heartbreak Pass is being billed as a celebration of 30 years of Giant Sand. Was that in your mind when you were recording it?

Well I think it was in my mind in the way that I was thinking of how much time I’ve put into it, how much time has passed. I don’t think it’s obvious but I was trying to assemble it with material that warrants three decades, I didn’t want to put in stuff like I did in the beginning. Back then I would put in stuff that was unwarranted so to speak, more playful. I didn’t mind killing time, wasting some time to go to battle with the eighties for example but now I have a shorter story to tell, it’s more to the point

The album was recorded in several locations, often as you passed through on tour.

Yeah, I think that’s the natural way to do things. It might make a lot of sense to just spend two weeks in a studio to make an album, it worked maybe many years ago but I don’t see the merit in it now. That’s the beauty of it, recording wherever you are lets you capture the lightning bugs in the jar at the moment they’re around.

Lightning bugs?

Yeah, those little insects that light up in the night, fireflies. The songs are the fireflies and the album’s the jar.

I get a sense in some of the songs on the album that it’s describing you as a global traveller, missing out on things like family, kids growing up etc. Is it time to do less of the travelling and spend more time at home?

Well the thing is you can’t afford the family without going to work so this is the impossible nature of trying to this… this particular job. It’s a job without retirement or security so all I can do is reflect on the impossible nature of it, not with regret or even celebration that it happened at all or that I’ve been able to do it for thirty years and that three children can be raised up. I think I’m able to pause and consider all the ramifications but at the same time I don’t think I’m ever that obvious in my lyrics, I understand what those songs are about but the listener can just take from them whatever they need

Do you see yourself then as being on some never ending tour, a bit like Dylan?

Well I think he stands as a symbol for just being around so long. I think he decided to just stay on the road to keep him from going senile. If you’re forced to be sharp by staying on the road then with that kind of challenge then you’re not going to get dementia. I think he needs it for an exercise. For me, I’ve taken the blue collar route. You have to tour in order to make a living, I enjoy it more than ever but you have to recognise that travel takes its toll but then if I worked in construction I’d have congested lung.

You spent much of last year on tour with Grant Lee Phillip

Yeah, we just finished a couple of days ago in Florence, Italy, after a year of doing it. We’ve talked about getting together again to record some songs.

Talking of Italy, Sacri Couri appear on one of the songs on the album.

Yeah on that song, Hurtin’ Habit. Well I was in Italy and I just started to write it and they were there so they helped me out.

Getting back to the 30 years anniversary I noticed that at SXSW you joined up with some previous collaborators, The Psycho Sisters, Winston Watson and Scott Gerber. How does it feel when you’re catching up with folk like that from the distant past?

Well life gets so crowded that you can’t spend as much time or at least the time you would want to with people you’ve met along the way. Like with Winston, it was so great to play with him again, it feels so familiar but it gives you a new pulse.

Can I ask you about Lonna Beth Kelley who does a wonderful job on the vocals on Pen To Paper?

Lonna and I have been very good friends for a long time. I adore her, I love her voice and the way she carries a song.

The album’s out in May and I believe you’re coming back to the UK to play some shows with Giant Sand.
In May we’re touring through Europe, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. We’ve got some UK dates lined up in June . Liverpool, I’ve never been to Liverpool so it’ll be good to be there. The others are at The Brudenell Social Club, a great venue in Leeds and Union Chapel in London, one of my favourite places.

With that Howe’s train sped on and we gave up battling with the onboard announcements. Since then Giant Sand have been confirmed to play at The End Of The Road Festival in September. Heartbreak Pass is released on 4th May on New West Records and the progress of the film Out Of the Desert can be followed on its Facebook page

Giant Sand website

Tour dates



Naim Amor. Hear The Walls. Fort Lowell Records

Naim Amor is yet another of those European artists lured into the lair of Tucson to collaborate with members of Giant Sand and Calexico and who forgot to return. A French native, Amor was quickly assimilated into the local scene along with his then partner, Marianne Dissard, releasing albums as part of Amor Belhom Duo and ABBC, before going solo. Retaining a European sensibility on his own albums, often singing in French and often reaching into the world of La Variete, that particularly French version of pop music, Amor can come across as an Arizona equivalent of Stan Getz in his bossa nova days. He delivers sumptuous candy floss sounds that caress the ears of casual listeners but which reward those prepared to dive in for a longer look (and listen) with the cream of Tucson musicians and producers all grooving to this sunny Mediterranean sound. It’s significant that at times one imagines Amor’s music sound tracking films by Jacques Tati and even early Roger Vadim as he has a fine sideline in composing film scores and has released a series of instrumental albums for imaginary movies.

Hear The Walls, Amor’s latest offering, features for the most part Amor on guitars and vocals with Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on upright base. Recorded straight to tape with some string overdubs added later it belies its simple conception as the warm sounds caress (that word again but there’s no other way to say it) and envelop the listener. Using a variety of guitars Amor sounds as if he’s sitting beside you gently plucking or strumming while his voice is a hushed and evocative Parisian come on, as French as a pack of Gitanes, a youthful Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a sonic delight and credit must go to Jim Waters who recorded the album and Jim Blackwood who mastered it. Amor says of the album
“When you turn the music off, you can hear the walls-the sound of one specific place, it’s nude ambiance that makes it so unique. This album fits the moment and the place when you decide to finally turn the music on again…and listen”
and it’s true that this is essentially an ambient album that can transport the listener to another place. The opening song Live For It inhabits the same universe as Angelo Badalamenti’s music for Twin Peaks, a surrealistic netherworld where people swim in thick air never needing to surface for breath. Turn The Magic On is a sound map to late night silence, that space when the music stops and one reflects on what was heard, a familiar feeling for those caught in the endless embrace of listening, a favourite album conjuring up moments past, moments lost perhaps. Seulement Toi echoes these solitary moments with liquid guitar sounds that recall The Durutti Column’s cascades while Over the Miles throbs with a warm heartbeat. As Fast As The Tall Ships Go is a magnificent instrumental with Lund’s bass playing adding a tenebrous sonority beneath rippling guitars with the end result not too far from a Nick Drake recording. In The Blue Waters Of My Mind could be on the Popeye soundtrack, its watery immersion reflecting clear blue depths. Cherches Dans La Brume continues in this vein but No Way Back then moves into neurotic chamber pop territory, pizzicato strings amplifying the anxiety in the lyrics. The most cinematic piece here, Au Large de Tres Bras is a halting and sombre moment with the strings foremost but careful listening reveals some discordant guitar trickery in the background that adds to an overall sense of menace such as that conveyed in Polanski’s Repulsion. Some might find that far fetched but several late night listens here have evoked that response on each occasion. Au Rouge De Ton Baiser is late night France, seductive and mysterious, a Brassai monochrome set to music and the album ends with two more evocative instrumentals which demonstrate Amor’s two worlds, Learning America welcoming a new country while Cours La Rejoindre seems to wave farewell to the past.

As we said above this is sumptuous music to wallow in, a delight to listen to, a late night offering that will have you dreaming of Parisian spires, cobbled lanes and films from Marcel Carne and Jean Vigo. Enjoy.


Marianne Dissard. The Cat. Not Me. Vacilando ’68 Recordings.

Fans of Giant Sand and Calexico should need no introduction to French singer and cinema auteur, Marianne Dissard. Director of the Giant Sand flick Drunken Bees and Joey Burns’ femme fatale foil on The Ballad Of Cable Hogue Dissard moved to the States in her teens when her parents relocated eventually putting down roots in Tucson in 1985. Aside from her appearance on Calexico’s albums Joey Burns composed much of the music on her 2008 album L’Entredeux while L’Abandon was a reaction to the breakup of her marriage to Naim Amor, another continental import to the Tucson music scene. Both albums featured Dissard’s odd combination of French “chanson” and dusty Tucson Americana, odd indeed but a sound that reflected the European influences on the likes of Calexico with their Morricone inspired vistas and harked back to the kinship shared by Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg, two artists who knew the alchemy of putting a sensual female voice over an impressionistic musical canvas.

Dissard decided to return to Europe last year but not before she recorded this, the third in her “Tucson trilogy.” On this occasion she recruited Sergio Mendoza from Tucson’s Y La Orkestra to write the music while Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund adds to the mix. The result is perhaps her most successful album to date, luxurious in its sumptuousness, molasses of music poured over her provocative voice as she bridges the Atlantic with some twang here and Bal-mussette there. There’s an analogue buzzing noise right at the beginning before Dissard leads us into the beguiling Am Letzen, a dreamy drifting ballad with multitracked vocals and a muted Nick Cave feel about it. With lyrics in French and German the European feel is also reminiscent of the Prague influenced Walkabouts. The spell cast is broken with Mouton Bercail, a neon lit rain slicked highway ride with spangled guitar bursts that sounds as if it sprang from a Davis Lynch movie. Loosely translated as Sheep Pen, O level French denies this listener the opportunity to understand Dissard’s urgent vocals here but the translation reveals lyrics that fit the lurid underworld suggested by the music such as ” I’ve done so many motels and basements/I’ve wasted so much time/so many dumps and shitholes/drooled so much blood/done so many fucked up things/made so many promises.”

Pomme lightens the mood somewhat with it’s childlike chorus before Je Ne Savais Pas hoves into view with vituperative lyrics and Gothic drama which would give the late Nico a run for her money. On Torture Dissard updates Serge Gainsbourg’s misanthropy singing “a tunnel with no lights, no smells and I walk barefoot in the mud under vaults that hang down. On the ground, soiled bodies, and cockroaches on the walls and rats that copulate under the drops.” Keyboard, horns and mellotron add to the melodrama. Election soars somewhat with snarly guitar solos and at the end a snapshot of La Marsaillaise on wheezy accordion. Salamandre is Gallic in the extreme, ponderous piano and accordion painting a doomed portrait, a Piaf in existential despair, a glorious and wounded sound that recalls the photographs of Robert Doisneau who captured the dying embers of Parisian decadence. The Lost Generation would dig this, its sensuality and despair as thick as Gauloise smoke. A parting gift from Tucson and a return to European roots The Cat Not Me bridges the divide with a handsome heft of Tucson musicianship and Dissard’s heritage.


Tucson music showcase at SXSW



Forget Nashville. Austin, maybe, Portland, perhaps but Tucson is the city that really gets Blabber’n’Smoke salivating when it comes to fine music. We’ve mentioned several artists who are based there including Giant Sand, Naim Amor, Marianne Dissard (thanks to our friends at Vacilando ’68) and Calexico and regularly dip into the likes of Al Perry, Rich Hopkins and Tasha Bundy when we’ve a moment to spare. With honorary citizens such as the legendary Dan Stuart and Steve Wynn the Tucson connections spread far and wide and although there isn’t such a thing as a “Tucson” sound it’s fair to say that the city has been a hot bed of talent for the past few decades, Fish Karma included. So when the tickertape on our foreign affairs desk spewed out the news that the recently launched music label Tucson Music Factory was to showcase two events at the forthcoming SXSW Austin music festival we waited with baited breath for the details of our flight, sadly these were not forthcoming however we did feel honour bound to mention this.

Tucson Music Factory along with the Tucson Weekly newspaper and community radio station KXCI-FM are promoting two nights at the festival, the first on Wednesday 13th March at the Brass House, 115 San Jacinto and then on Saturday 16th March at the Speakeasy 412 Congress Av. Details of the line-ups are below and while it’s Giant Giant Sand who might be the attention grabbers we’d urge you to have a listen to the others especially the mighty Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson who should be first in the queue for the next Tarantino soundtrack. These promise to be two fine nights of the finest south west/border music around with dusty trails and Mexican exotica leavened with a European sensuality and it’s with envy that we can only sit here in the old UK and listen to the records at the moment. If any readers do manage to attend do let us know and send a review in.

Brass House 115 San Jacinto Wednesday March 13th

Marianne Dissard & Budo
Sammy Decoster
Transcription Of Organ Music
Naïm Amor

FB event :

Speakeasy 412 Congress Av. Saturday, March 16th

Giant Giant Sand
Y La Orkesta
Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson
Chicha Dust
Andrew Collberg

FB event :

And just to whet the appetite here’s a slice of Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson

The Desoto Caucus Offramp Rodeo

The Desoto Caucus are the Danish contingent of Giant Sand comprising Anders Pedersen(guitar, vocals), Peter Dombernowsky(Drums, percussion),Nikolaj Heyman (bass, keyboards) and Thøger T. Lund (guitar, vocals). They’ve basically been Howe Gelb’s sidekicks for the past ten years since Pederson, Lund and Dombernowsky first backed Howe Gelb on his solo release The Listener. When Gelb decamped to Canada to record his acclaimed gospel album Sno’ Angel the trio used the downtime to record an album under the name of The Desoto Caucus. Reconvening with Gelb, Heyman came on board the Sand line up and he now comprises the fourth part of the fully formed Caucus.
While their first release, EliteContinentalCustomClub slipped under the radar Offramp Rodeo is getting a proper release (via Glitterhouse in Europe) and certainly should be high on the listening agenda for anyone who is moved by the magisterial Gelb and his ever widening circle. While it would be unfair to categorise The Desoto Caucus as Giant Sand sound a likes there’s no doubt that these Danes have had the opportunity to marinate in Gelb’s unique sensibilities before finding inspiration for their own flight. While they have that loose limbed sense of ambling through a song, stumbling on shards of jagged guitar and tripping over unexpected sonic blips that characterises much of Gelb’s work they also find inspiration from the likes of Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous and Bill Callahan and manage to forge their own identity with Pedersen, who wrote all of the songs (two co written with Heyman) rising to the occasion with some fine lyrics.
Recorded in Denmark the album has a warm intimate close up feel, the percussion gently thumps and sparkles while the vocals and guitars slowly burn like the dying embers of a log fire that occasionally sparks and sputters. Live In The Stream is a strong opener with a propulsive throbbing beat and a hypnotic vocal from Pederson which manages to recall Sparklehorse and ends with a short burst of clanging guitar. OCB is the most Giant Sand like piece here as Pederson and Lund sing in very close harmony about Offbeat Circuit Breakers but the following title song is a much airier affair with pedal steel adorning a strummed guitar and Pedersen crooning like Bill Callahan from Smog. With snippets of marimba, glockenspiel and African percussion there’s a sweet undercurrent to this very pretty song. The kpanloko drum from Africa makes another appearance on the evocative Full Moon, a dreamlike affair with a great percussion track and fine supporting vocals from Sille Krill.
Fine as these selections are the band pull out all of the stops on a brace of songs that up the thrill stakes and demonstrate that this is a band and not just a side project. Despite Pedersen’s claim in his fine liner notes that they find straight forward rock songs difficult Here’s One disproves this from the start as guitars fizz and explode over a driving drum beat that is embroidered by piano, organ, glockenspiel, tubular bells and trombone ending up in an veritable Smörgåsbord of sound. Leaving Odessa is an impressionistic take on images of Texas and life on the road that flies high with some fine stratospheric pedal steel and some very impressive percussion from Dombernowsky. Firesale is another collection of lyrical impressions where the band attempt to capture the feel of being “European explorers in the new world.” The song starts off gently before building up to a cinematic wide screen sound with echoes of Morricone with muted tubular bell and softly shimmering percussion adding a faded grandeur. The short Even So slouches into view and out again briefly but it’s a fine gnarled effort showcasing Heyman’s guitar. Closing the album, Last Call just about sums the band up as Dembernowsky employs numerous percussive devices to drive the song while guitars snake in and out, snapping at the heels of Pedersen’s slow drawl on a song that would not be out of place on Jim White’s Wrong Eyed Jesus album.
Overall this is a strong collection of songs that is improved by the musical dexterity of the band as repeated listens unveil little sonic quirks and embellishments. Well recommended of course for fans of Giant Sand but well worth a listen for anyone interested in the slightly offbeat side of Americana that steers clear of Nashville and finds inspiration in the less travelled roads.


Top 10 2012

Don’t think we’ve done this before but it looks like everyone in the world this year has come up with a “best of” selection. So, here’s our tuppenceworth.

1. John Murry The Graceless Age. Bucketful of Brains
A narcoleptic diary of hard times that shimmers with a beautiful heat haze.

2. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. Our lady of The Tall Trees. Independent
Songs carved from old wood and turned into objects of beauty

3. Dan Stuart. The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Cadiz Music.
Back from the almost dead with a vengeance

4. Deadman “Take Up Your Mat and Walk” Blue Rose
An Americana primer, they gather in their influences and forge a fresh sound

5. Otis Gibbs. Harder Than Hammered Hell. Wanamaker Recording Company
A solid set of songs of the working man that packs a Southern punch.

6. Nels Andrews. Scrimshaw. Independent
A delicate and impressionistic set of tales from New York

7. Giant Giant Sand. Tucson. Fire Records
Expanded and emboldened Howe Gelb delivers a country rock opera as only he can

8. Petunia & the Vipers. Petunia & The Vipers. Trapline Productions
Left field country pop and rock with yodelling and guts

9. The Illegitimate Sons. American Music. Independent.
Bourbon soaked rootsy rock delivered with panache

10. Sacri Cuori. Rosario. Décor Records.
Italian band delivers some superb instrumental Americana that channels Calexico and Ry Cooder

Honourable mentions

Calexico. Algiers,
Chuck Prophet. Temple Beautiful,
For Fear the hearts of Men Are Failing. The Wonderful Clatter
Mark Lucas. Uncle Bones,
Malcolm Holcombe. Down The River
Richard Hawley. Standing At The Sky’s Edge
Michael Rank and Stag. Kin
Heritage Blues Orchestra. And Still I Rise
Ry Cooder. Election Special
Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Psychedelic Pill
Marvin Etzioni, Marvin Country!
Lincoln Durham. The Shovel vs the Howling Bones
Grant Peeples, Prior Convictions
Hat Check Girl. The Road To Red Point
Woody Pines. You Gotta Roll
Hurray For The RiffRaff. Look Out Mama
Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. Live In Holland

Luz de Vida

Light of Life I think it says. When Blabber’n’Smoke met Howe Gelb back in January of this year it had only been a few days since the crazy and tragic shooting incident in Tucson which targeted their representative Garbrielle Giffords (who survived ) and killed six others. Now some Tucson musicians have gathered together to record an album whose proceeds will go towards helping those affected. Here’s the Giant Sand song that appears on it and the link to buy it if you so wish.
Recovery Mission

buy the album

Molecules, planets and Ian Hunter – A conversation with Howe Gelb

When Giant Sand played Celtic Connections Blabber’n’Smoke was fortunate enough to spend some time with Howe Gelb courtesy of Maverick magazine. After the band’s soundcheck at the ABC we found a quiet space in the CCA along the road where Howe spoke at some length on various topics. The Maverick piece was for a short feature on the band and the current re releases and will be in the March edition. In the meantime here’s some of the other topics we discussed.

The interview took place less than a week after the Tucson shootings and Howe was obviously affected by this. Initially he spoke about Gabby Giffords and his reflections on Barak Obama’s visit and speech in Tucson thereafter. This led us into some talk about his on line journal where he had reported on Obama’s visit and I asked him first of all if he had any thoughts on further writing, a book or some such.

“If I do it might be somewhere hidden in the tour journals but I don’t know if it would be a book I would want to read. That’s the problem and with the tour journals nothing is more banal or boring or routine than a tour journal so that’s why I allow that challenge to attempt to make the writing leaner and entertaining because it’s virtually the same thing every day. And you know when you’re younger you get into more trouble, you don’t know what will happen, you just go off in all kind of directions and its more lusty but when you’re older you kinda know what’s going to happen, so you’re wise enough to avoid that. So therefore the challenge is to make that writing in any way easier to swallow. I don’t know if my writing is clear enough so that folk understand what I’m saying and I don’t want to overindulge either and I also hate being the main subject matter, just that its convenient. That’s all because you’re aware of yourself mostly but then you’re still trying to step out of it now. It somehow has to relate to the world or other people. If you go by the fact that you’re a character read only by a fan base then you’re failing as a writer but if you make it so anyone can read it then it’s a good exercise.”

Have you read Ian hunters diary, a lot of it is about very humdrum day to day stuff

“Yeah, I only read it a year or two ago. I found it in John Parish’s house and I read it and it finishes with a show in Pennsylvania that I saw. I still remember that show, they opened for Edgar Winter and it’s really interesting now being in a similar situation as that guy. The full circle of him going to a gig and all of the stuff you put up with and then going to that gig in Scranton Pennsylvania.”

Half the time he’s most interested in whether the hairdryer’s working.

“He’s really a sensible cool guy in there way more than……. I don’t know. It sounded like it could happen today, the way he thinks and the way he went about things, I guess his values were sound. I saw them twice in Pennsylvania the second time they were headlining, I was 16 then, first time, 15, around 72. He said something about this in the book. First time they were opening for people, Edgar Winter had that hit Frankenstein and he was playing all those instruments on stage running around. But beforehand Mott the Hoople came out and man, for all these kids in Pennsylvania, to see those guys with those huge heels and those guitars and all those crazy shapes and shit it was fantastic. The next time I saw them, it was the same year I think ‘cos I don’t think I was able to drive yet. This was after the flood, the flood was in 72, they cleaned up after the flood so I went back there. I was there with my girlfriend and I remember it got so crowded some poor kid got pushed through the glass doors and the doors opened and my girlfriend lost her shoes and there was glass everywhere so I had to pick her up. It was all very exciting. And then the opening band was Queen and no one had ever heard of them, Brian May blew my mind that night, I kept thinking this was what Jimi Hendrix must have been like, the guy was amazing.”

Well some folk go all out for rock’n’ roll. Is that sad or silly?

“No, its necessary, I’m not sure why. It’s like some kind of sonic church where you don’t have to commit. It’s really without perimeters, it will embrace you if you want to embrace it but its not demanding at all. When you feel the surge of all those people, all that energy. And then reflecting off the people that are making the music back to the people who are sending it back to the band that’s when its at its best. And the people who are making the music are the same as the people in the crowd but they just found a way of crafting their workload the same as any carpenter or tradesman. The side effect of fame could be entertaining in itself but it could also just get in the way of the workload, there’s many trappings that can take you out of the game. ”

Well in the last two years we had the sad deaths of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkhouse

“Yeah there was also Jim Dickinson and Alex Chilton.”

Chilton was huge in Glasgow

“He was amazing, I only saw him live one time, we played with him in this tiny village in Italy and the way he constructed his songs was unlike anyone, really old school, a dying art. It was really cool how he set his melody outside of the box of the chords and songs and rhythms they used.”

Is that not something you do?

“No I wish, his was specific, mine is really non-specific.”

Well an album like Flies on Sherbet was primitive, not polished. not hit song after hit song. Some of your albums have been criticised for snippets of sound, sonic tomfoolery. Neither of you were looking for a number one hit.

“I don’t see anything in common but that’s OK if you do ‘cos the whole idea of any of this stuff is you put it out there. Just going by your own gut instinct and you’re trying to hand down something you think is good that someone else hasn’t got wind of yet. That’s how it seemed like it was when I was receiving that information from people when I was growing up and so when I didn’t get enough of it so I tried to overcompensate. Get more of it and that sustains a lot of the music, all those bits and pieces but there’s not enough time. Always seems like there’s never enough time. There’s all this stuff and I want to give all this stuff to as many people as possible in as little time as possible and that’s been what’s been dogging me since the get go. Especially as I thought when I was 28 and finally making a record that this should have happened four or five years before and now I got to catch up. There’s less time than I thought I had. Coming up with material never seemed to be a problem but within that material I wanted to season it with as many elements as possible that I thought was good, even if it was smaller moments and then switch it to this other thing. It wasn’t until way later that people started saying it was weird or all over the place or if I had any sense of where I was slotting in category wise. Its not what I call weird or strange so sometimes I pause to think about why people do but I don’t want to speculate. Doesn’t matter what I think.”

Well most folk expect an album to have twelve songs.

“If you take yourself way outside the orbit of a song, you know the orbit of a song can be molecular, could be as small as an atom especially in your world because your world is so cluttered with other stuff. So when you do hear a song it has to cut through all this other stuff. When you hear a song simply constructed with a chorus that you can hum by the second time you hear it now you’re involved with it, its allowing you in. If by the end if the song it seems shorter than it really was that’s a good sign, its easily and readily digestible and you want more. But if you look at it most of my stuff doesn’t do that. Because it’s molecular. It’s not as big as the universe. With the molecular stuff it’s the same thing goin’ on but just by application you have to go into the molecule, you’re not already in the molecule like you’re in the solar system. You got to now go into the molecule and if have the luxury of time to check out what’s happening then it will be just as effective. The bottom line, the end result is most people, the molecule whizzes by them . They don’t have the time or why should they dive into that thing when everything they need is going to hit them over the head like a solar system anyway. Waiting for a planet to hit them on the head.”

At that we had to call it a day as showtime was beckoning. The gig was tremendous with blistering renditions of older Giant Sand songs and some rip-roaring stuff from the latest album, Blue Blurry Mountain. On stage Gelb continued to be the gentleman, wooing the crowd with his unique mannerisms and elegant language. A fine night.