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Howe Gelb with Gabriel Sullivan
May 30, 2014 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm$15
Whether as Giant Sand, Howe Gelb or any number of group rubrics (The Band of… Blacky Ranchette, Arizona Amp & Alternator, ‘Sno Angel, OP8) the shape-shifting, ever-evolving musician has issued a long run of indefinable and influential recordings ranging from punk and roots-rock to jazz, gospel and even traditional Spanish music. Aside from his own venerable catalogue of “erosion rock” as he likes to call it, Gelb discovered M. Ward and Grandaddy along the way, releasing the former’s debut album on his own little label.
Produced and recorded by Gelb largely in his home base of Tucson, at Wavelab studio and Harvey Moltz’s studio, his latest solo album is somewhere between the musician’s 40th and 50th, but don’t ask him how many records he’s made, because he’s not sure. Gelb is the principal vocalist and plays guitar, piano, and chimes. His band on this record is made up of guitarist M. Ward, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Giant Sand bassist and all-around co-conspirator Thøger Tetens Lund.
Gelb’s friends, Scottish singer KT Tunstall (whose most recent album Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon was co-produced by Gelb), Bonnie Prince Billy (a/k/a off-center Americana songsmith Will Oldham), violinist Andrew Bird, and pedal steel guitarist John Rauhouse all make appearances on the album. One track’s intro/outro features Spanish flamenco musicians Juan Fernandez Panky, Lin Cortés, and Anil Fernandez, who collaborated with Gelb on his foray into gypsy folk on his 2010 album Alegrias.
Gelb’s collaborators on the album are a mix of old colleagues and comparatively recent creative allies. He first met Andrew Bird during a joint tour with Kristin Hersh a decade ago, while Jon Rauhouse has been a longtime accompanist of another Gelb mate, Neko Case.
Two of the album’s most potent tracks – the piano instrumental “Instigated Chimes” and “Picacho Peak” – were cut solo by Gelb at home, where he records live to CD through an old four-channel mixing console formerly owned by Jonathan Richman.
Gelb says of the latter number, “It’s a kind of lyric writing I’ve been enjoying more and more lately. You’re in a slipstream and you don’t know what you’re writing about, and then at some point it comes around to you, in the middle of recording or the middle of putting something down. It’s – what’s the word? – a rumination.”
At this stage in his life, after years of ping ponging between the desert and Europe, Gelb is putting a renewed focus on the U.S and hoping for his global scattering to come to a rest. “After three decades delivering some kind of American music mash up to all parts of the globe like a sonic ambassador, it feels like I’ve taken the long way home, settling now into my own undiscovered country,” he says. “Which is ok. I’m always late.”
Gabriel Sullivan cut his teeth as a teen in Tucson’s punk scene. But his musical restlessness kept him seeking out new sounds. Somewhere along the way, he discovered some fascinating parallels between the Mexican conjunto music of his hometown and the thrilling songs of Romania’s Gypsy people. The rhythms are for dancing, the melodies are full of pathos, and the performances are at once virtuosic and rough-and-tumble. While Sullivan is one of the busiest musicians in Tucson, playing guitar, percussion, and keys regularly with half a dozen bands, his Taraf de Tucson is the fullest expression of all of his musical obsessions.