Release Date: May 4, 2015
Record label: New West
Giant Sand isn't really a band these days; instead, it's a concept that has emerged from the mind of Howe Gelb, and ultimately, that's all for the best. It's hard to imagine how Gelb could get one reasonably sized set of musicians to conjure up the many moods and tonal colors of Giant Sand's 2015 studio effort Heartbreak Pass, but by jumping back and forth between several states, countries, and continents, he's not only come up with an uncommonly rich and imaginative set of performances, he's made an album that scans remarkably well considering the miles he logged putting it together. One tune, "Done," was cut during sessions in Brussels, Crete, and Ottawa, while "Heaventually" features bits recorded in Italy, England, Tennessee, and Arizona.
A collision of the past and present, this new album from Giant Sand marks the 30th anniversary of Howe Gelb’s band by including many of his past collaborators on its tracks. With over 50 albums to his name, Gelb has, with a few exceptions, generally managed to balance the quantity of his output with the quality of it, and Heartbreak Pass is another example of that. It begins with the hesitant rhyming exercise of Heaventually, and, while its deliberately clunky lyrics detract from its impact, it’s nevertheless a solid introduction into the album.
With Wilco leaning toward arty shades of indie rock and the Jayhawks being studio-shy, Howe Gelb’s collective is probably one of the longest running and best Americana bands still out there making strong records- even their biggest competitor, the soundtrack-themed Calexico, got their start there. Coming off of a country-rock opera and a dozen-strong Danish band (plus special guests like Steve Shelley and Grant Lee Phillips), Gelb proves that he’s still ambitious after 30 or so albums, with his soothing, reassuring voice as the unifying factor. Here, he splits an album that he admits is too long into 3 pieces: ‘loud and lucky abandon’ (aka rockin’ stuff), Americana and ‘heady stuff’ (aka brooding).
Mbongwana Star FROM KINSHASA Mbongwana Star, a band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, radically upends expectations of Congolese music; “mbongwana” means “change” in Lingala, a Congolese lingua franca. Its album “From Kinshasa” (World Circuit/Nonesuch) is a world away from the lilting rumba rhythms, suave singers and intertwined guitars of Congolese soukous; it’s also far more surreal than the so-called Congotronics of Konono No. 1, a group that brings its amplified thumb pianos to one song on “From Kinshasa.
Returning to his core operations with Giant Sand – after two somewhat overlooked solo albums in 2013 (The Coincidentalist and Dust Bowl), a side-project collaboration with Radian and more time overseeing further entries in his still ongoing back catalogue reissue programme – Heartbreak Pass finds Howe Gelb commemorating thirty years since the band’s The Valley Of Rain debut with a collection summarising and expanding upon three decades of multiple turns and twists. In convoluted Gelbian language this means that “there are 3 volumes of 15 songs here representing living 2 lives for 30 years. ” In less contrary terms it transpires that Heartbreak Pass is split into three movements, recorded everywhere from Brussels and Berlin to Portland and Tucson and peppered with new/old accomplices.