Giant Sand

Is All Over the Map

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    8
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It was four years since the last album from Giant Sand (Cover Magazine doesn't really count), and Howe Gelb is still making albums to please himself. Which is as it should be, since no one makes records that sound quite like this: a shambolic, atmospheric mixture of hushed tones, deadly distortion, tender poetics, and rock & roll. There are some new members in the Giant Sand family, but they sound just as versatile and fit just as well as the too-busy members of Calexico, Joey Burns and John Covertino. The songs are great, featuring Gelb's often near-whispered vocals, pretty resonant piano, acoustic guitars, and some of the most crushing distortion ever recorded (which is likely to appear and disappear almost anywhere). Take the lovely "Classico," where the guitar solo is traded off between an acoustic nylon-string guitar and an electric with the amp turned up WAY past 11, or the multitude of hairy guitars in "NYC of Time" that disappear, giving way to a very nice piano segment. Gelb's voice gets the distorto treatment on "Remote," and "Drab" has some fine buzzing prepared piano. But it's not all about distortion (which really comes and goes); there's an acoustic element to every track and most of these songs would work as purely acoustic pieces. "Rag" is just a piano rag with drums, and "Les Forçats Innocents" is not only sung in French, but has a tasty mandolin accompaniment. And only Howe Gelb would have the good sense to include a Sex Pistols/Waylon Jennings medley. Almost 20 years on, and Howe Gelb and his Giant Sand compatriots have made concessions to no one, and if you're a fan, that's a very good thing.

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