Howe Gelb – The Coincidentalist (2013)

howe-gelb-the-coincidentalist-jpgOn a certain level, all kinds of interesting dependencies between notions are always to be found. Drunk driving is much less dangerous than drunk walking and meat eaters are selfish and less social, or at least some say so. Naturally one can question the validity if such claims, but lets skip that for a moment. Instead I have a claim of my own, here goes: the Danish landscape is strongly connected the desolate desert scenery we know from American Southwest. There you go. Okay, I have to be honest, unfortunately I don’t have any dataset that supports this in anyway, so to many number crushing fetishists this claim will be ripe for the bin in an instant. Unless.., that dark silhouette standing amidst of a gently sloping Danish field is here to save the day. Could this be Howe Gelb?

Indeed its him, and frankly its still a bit strange to see Giant Sand’s frontman and king of Americana in the cold and humid Northern European climate. Gelb has been working in Denmark every now and then, this because of his Danish wife. During his stays he also made some new Danish musical friends, some of them also became members of Giant Sand. This Danish connection is most notable on the country rock opera Tuscon  (2012) that Gelb made under the tag of Giant Giant Sand. Tuscon is just one of the many albums the 57 year old Gelb produced. With Giant Sand he released more than twenty albums and if that isn’t enough he released about the same amount of work under his own name. Earlier this year Dust Bowl came out which is a rootsy flirt with Tuscon. And if I may add, its a lovely one. To keep production up Gelb decided to deliver his second album of this year, titled The Coincidentalist, that was recorded in the desert with help from his Danish friend Thøger Tetens Lund (bass) and some other highly distinguished guests such as John Parish. Before continuing I have to make clear that throughout the years Howe Gelb deserved his spurs, so their is no fear that The Coincidentalist will be a massive let down. Instead this new Howe Gelb feels like a reappreciation of his roots or lets say a firm embracing of the desert.   

Giant Sand is usually the band that is composed out of lads with who Gelb hangs out with during a non-defined period of time. Gelb’s solo efforts are therefore of a much freer and open nature. Just compare the track ‘Forever and a Day’ between the Tuscon and Dust Bowl albums and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Although The Coincidentalist indeed has an open palette, Gelb is not alone on this one. He invited a mix of musicians of old, as well a contemporary same-minded artists to his home in Arizona to contribute to a new album and Vortexas is his welcome speech: “Well…welcome to the desert…” This lead off track elaborates on his love for Tuscon and is supported by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy as the second voice. This warm welcome is a prelude to a feast of recognition. Howe Gelb’s deep and echoey voice, combined with M. Ward on lead guitar and former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley give each song an unique dusty atmosphere of  desolate landscapes, rocky dirt roads and a lonely bar afar. In some cases this splendor is graced with a more conspicuous guest appearance. The 3 Deaths of the Lucky for example is turned into a vulnerable duet with help of KT Tunstall and Andrew Bird’s violin is essential to the title track vivaciousness. The Coincidentalist’ sound is not as sober as you might think. There is an important role for a modest jazziness thats mastered in such a way that it brings in a very nice in depth warmth. My favorite track from The Coincidentalist is Picacho Peak, a truly monumental song thats backed up by Caroline Isaacs. Gelb dreamily whispers about the beauty of loneliness, “… I drive with no lights on whenever there is a full moon, full moon. I tend to singalong with the radio on, and I don’t know the tune. […]. I hope to remain so severely talented, at least for an another mile or two”. The album ends with a  piano instrumental called Instigated Chimes. Together with Picacho Peak, this track was recorded at home by Gelb through an old four-channel mixer and breathes out a great vintage atmosphere.

Obviously I have to conclude that Howe Gelb delivers another great album. However it must be said that de facto its not much different from his previous work. Indeed the impressive list of guests slightly shifts a few emphasises making the album less a whole. Therefore older work is certainly to be prefered, yet that does not detract anything of the quality The Coincidentalist brings. Right, regarding to my earlier statement on the relation between Denmark and the American Southwest: of course I have to reject this hypothesis. And I do so for many reason. For now its enough to say that generalizing on the basis of one case is impossible. And on top of that, much of the creative output from Gelb is in its core very American, so if there is any influences its an one sided one that flows from the West towards Denmark. On the other hand, in the past ten years or so themes of leaving and changing were frequently present in his songs. Perhaps in this light it can be said that on the basis of this latest release the regular Northern European dwellings of Howe Gelb strengthened his love for his home region, where all is safe and friends are around the corner. Nostalgica or not, home is apparently not always where the heart is.  

Label: New West

Tracklist:

  1. Vortexas (4:18)
  2. Left of Center (2:06)
  3.  Running Behind (2:25)
  4.  The 3 Deaths of Lucky (4:35)
  5.  Unforgivable (2:17)
  6.  The Coincidentalist (2:50)
  7.  Triangulate (3:20)
  8.  Picacho Peak (4:23)
  9.  An Extended Plane of Existence (4:43)
  10.  Looking That Way (2:12)
  11.  Instigated Chimes (2:54)

Further surfing:
Official site
Howe Gelb on AllMusic
Howe Gelb on YouTube

Review by Wander Meulemans // 111113

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