Howe Gelb

Little Sand Box

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Howe Gelb's solo recording career literally began on a whim: Gelb recorded 1991's Dreaded Brown Recluse with his band Giant Sand, but when his record label decided it was too soon for another Giant Sand album, Gelb chose to release it under his own name, and suddenly he had a second career. It was after Giant Sand collapsed for a spell that Gelb began cutting proper solo projects, most of which seemingly evolved from a vague creative notion to a makeshift but heartfelt work of art, and Gelb has brought together eight of his solo albums into a box set, Little Sand Box. While each of these albums has a personality and feel of its own, approached as one massive suite, the consistent themes of Gelb's music certainly shine through -- his sweetly craggy voice, the loopy but emotionally incisive poetry of his lyrics, the performances that seem playful bordering on lackadaisical but pull themselves together before they collapse, and the soundscapes that always seem to conjure images of the Arizona desert, even when he's working in Denmark or Spain. Of the eight albums included, the two strongest are 2006's 'Sno Angel Like You, in which Gelb borrows from the traditions of gospel music to bring a stronger framework to his music while still sounding as passionate, human, and idiosyncratic as ever, and 2011's 'Sno Angel Wingin' It, a document of the concert tour that followed, with Gelb accompanied by a rough-and-ready band and a full gospel choir who turn the performances into rowdy peals of joy. (2011's Alegrías, cut with a handful of fine flamenco musicians, is another gem and reveals that a little outwardly imposed discipline doesn't hurt Gelb one bit.) On the other end of the scale, 1998's Hisser is an aggressively lo-fi set that often seems to stumble across the line from casual into incoherent, and the final collection of piano pieces is just too much of a somewhat enjoyable thing (though since it compiles highlights from four full-length albums, listeners should probably be grateful Gelb opted to pick and choose rather than delivering them in full). Gelb has written new notes for each album that explain the genesis of these projects and offer a beguiling look into Gelb's life and working methods. Except for the final piano disc, each album includes bonus tracks, none of which outshine the original tracks on their respective LPs but don't disappoint, either. How much Howe Gelb one needs is a question only fans can answer for themselves, but if you're up for a major journey through Gelb's universe, Little Sand Box delivers the deluxe guided tour with the sage himself as your guide, and there isn't a single false or insincere moment to be found in these eight albums.

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