Howe Gelb

The Coincidentalist

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The Coincidentalist is Howe Gelb's first solo album since 2011's Alegrias, and his debut for New West Records. In 2012, his ever-evolving Giant Sand issued the sprawling "country rock opera" Tucson, which marked his return to the desert after spending most of the previous decade in Denmark. Self-produced, The Coincidentalist is a mostly low-key affair with a stellar mix by John Parish. As has been his M.O. for most of the last three decades, Gelb enlists a fine cast of co-conspirators: longtime bassist Thoger Tetens Lund, former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, M. Ward on lead guitar, and the Silver Thread Trio (Gabrielle Pietrangelo, Laura Kepner-Adney, and Caroline Isaacs) on chorus vocals. Gelb plays acoustic and electric pianos, guitar, and chimes. The guest list is impressive, too. Bonnie "Prince" Billy duets with Gelb on set-opener "Vortexas." His warbling, soft croon juxtaposes perfectly with Gelb's laid-back, deep baritone, underscored Rhodes piano, slithering guitars, a cooing, Leonard Cohen-esque backing chorus, and Shelley's rolling lounge bar shuffle. A winding pedal steel (courtesy of the Mekons' Jon Rauhouse) floats in between Gelb's piano lines in a melodic yet arid, first-person morality tale. KT Tunstall trades verses with Gelb and their voices are perfectly suited to one another -- especially coming together in the refrain. The title track walks a series of lines between country, age-old AM radio pop, mutant flamenco, and mariachi, with Andrew Bird contributing a fine violin solo. "Running Behind" is a warm, exotica-tinged country love song with just enough reverb on the vocal, and a fine jazzy guitar solo by Ward, to make the tune sound as if it were recorded in a different era. There is real tenderness, as well as confusion, humor, and wry observation on The Coincidentalist; Gelb's clearly inspired by the past as well as the present and puts it all out there in an intriguing, quizzical, even iconoclastic way. "An Extended Place of Existence," recorded with Shelley in Spain, is a philosophical tome disguised as a love song, where country, early rock & roll (à la doo wop), and 21st century sonic experimentation balance each other out and sum up many of the albums themes. The Coincidentalist is one of Gelb's most realized efforts; despite its relaxed, airy presentation, it's musically and lyrically provocative, as poetic, strange, and mysterious as the desert itself.

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