Is All Over the Map
Howe Gelb and Giant Sand have wandered happily through the musical landscape for 20 years now. Like one of those fanciful 15th century mappe mundi with its colorful renderings of half-submerged mythic beasts and un-chartered coastlines, a Giant Sand record is more about the journey to that mysterious country Gelb Land than it is about providing direction (except perhaps in an aesthetic sense).
That said, this is Gelb's most inspired rendition of the Giant Sand sound since the critically acclaimed Chore of Enchantment in 2000, which was also produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse). Surprising, perhaps, because two-thirds of the traditional Giant Sand squad -- Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino -- were too busy to lend a hand. But right off the bat on ...Map their replacements -- Thøger T. Lund (bass) and Peter Dombernowsky (drums) -- share their forerunners' musical sensibilities.
The opener, "Classico," is one of those shambolic desert shuffles of Gelb's -- a plucked acoustic, gently soaring pedal steel, delicate piano and half-whispered stream-of-consciousness lyrics, eventually augmented by a guitar solo that bubbles with distortion. "Cracklin' Water," and "Drab" follow similar fractured formulas -- it feels like it could all fall apart at any moment and when it doesn't the feeling is transcendent.
Elsewhere, as on "NYC of Time," "Remote" and "Flying Around the Sun at Remarkable Speed," Giant Sand morphs into an amphetamine-powered Crazy Horse -- chugging guitars awash in various states of distortion, treated vox, thrashing percussion, hammered keys and what passes here for anthemic choruses. Gelb also culture-hops from his Arizona desert hideout to Old Europe (he maintains a second musical base in Denmark), delivering up an effective chanson, "Les Forats Innocents" ("The Innocent Convicts") and spaghetti western elegy (along with frequent contributor Marie Frank), "Napoli."
Gelb's lyrics sound like the colorful ramblings of a non-native speaker who's fonder of rhyming and alliteration than actual meaning, but there is both poignancy and laughter here. Yet the real message -- delivered in the unmistakable language of truly original music -- is quite obvious: Chart your own course.
Track to Burn: "Flying Around the Sun at Remarkable Speed"
Rating: --John Schacht
Jamie Hoover/Bill Lloyd
You'd never know it from reading the mainstream press, or most rock mags for that matter, but there's a thriving pop rock subculture in the US. We're talking multiple record labels devoted to the genre, successful tours, even pop conventions. Fans call it by various names: power pop, indie pop, jangle pop or, as this CD's label attests, paisley pop. (For neophytes, think the Raspberries' "Go All The Way" or even "Back In the USSR" by the Band No One Must Be Compared To). The pop subculture has been around long enough for an unofficial hierarchy to have evolved. Near the top of the ladder, with an international pop rock reputation that will be news to many Charlotteans, is Queen City singer/songwriter/ guitarist/producer/Spongetone Jamie Hoover. He and another power pop honcho, Bill Lloyd, created Paparazzi, a disc that has become one of my favorites of 2004. Full, lush, ringing guitars introduce melodies that actually go somewhere a la Big Star, and great harmonies bring to mind the Everlys (plus irony) on songs like "Show & Tell The World," "Walking Out," and a great Hoover tune, "It Could Have Been Me."
Track to Burn: "Show & Tell the World"
Rating: --John Grooms
Having a great voice can be something of a blessing (see Jeff Buckley) and a curse (see Jeff Buckley). If the performer doesn't show sufficient restraint in his or her work, all the three-octave wails and delicate, soaring crescendos in the world aren't going to penetrate the listener's heart. Think of it as a variation on the old fairy tale -- if a singer sings "wolf" too many times, people are going to stop paying attention.
So think of the golden-voiced Trent Dabbs as one part Ron Sexsmith (see "January Lights"), one part Counting Crows (see "It's Not Like That" and the album's producer, the Crows' Dennis Herring), and one part Ryan Adams (The title song, the beautiful "Quite Often," is the hit Adams fans have been waiting on since Heartbreaker).
There are a few missteps here -- "Yesterday's Apology" sounds like Adams circa Gold (as in going for the...) -- but overall, it's hard to find much fault with Quite Often, or with Dabbs' precocious pipes, which he keeps a muffler on more often than not. (Dabbs plays The Evening Muse Monday at 8pm).
Track to burn: "On Heavy"
Rating: 1/2--Timothy C. Davis