Release Date: Jun 12, 2012
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
A careful look at the cover of the album Tucson reveals that Howe Gelb has credited his band as "Giant Giant Sand," and with the lineup expanded to 12 musicians (and another five cited as guests along with a children's chorus), it's clear Gelb wasn't afraid to think big for this project. And the scale of the ensemble suits the material; Tucson is subtitled "A Country Rock Opera," and with the 19 songs clocking in at just under 70 minutes, it certainly has an operatic scope and an impressive musical heft. In addition to a lyric sheet, Tucson includes a 20-page booklet that attempts to explain the story that ties Gelb's songs together; while the tale is full of atmosphere and telling details, the narrative is murky at best, having something to do with a drifter who frees himself from his possessions, falls in love with a woman he meets at a dancehall, and ends up in an Occupy Tucson encampment with the city's disenfranchised.
For the new album Tucson, Howe Gelb has doubled the size of his band, so they’ve appropriately changed from Giant Sand to Giant Giant Sand. The switch, not in small part because the album centers on the developing expansiveness. The sound is wider than might be expected, although there’s nothing here that shouldn’t feel out of place to a Giant Sand fan.
This record is long. To finish all one-hour-and-10-minutes of it, one must commit to feeling a little somber and dusty. It is not music to get stoked to; perhaps swap a letter in “stoked” and then it’s better aligned. Howe Gelb calls it a country rock opera. I call it a slightly schizophrenic ….
WISIN Y YANDEL “Líderes” (Machete) For the Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel, going worldwide is a careful, short-yardage game of rhythm and language. Twelve years after they started making scrappy reggaetón records, they’re still inching toward pop omnipresence. But in the last few years the sands have shifted. The route has become clearer for acts like them, as well as for them specifically, and “Líderes” (“Leaders”), their ninth studio album, is their biggest push toward the pop mainstream.
Perhaps being conscious that his own bounteous back catalogue has somewhat overshadowed his more recent repertoire – due to the lustrous ongoing reissue programme from Fire Records – Howe Gelb seems to have deliberately upped the ante for this newly-cut collection with the double-sized Giant Giant Sand. Not content with merely enlarging his latter-day Giant Sand line-up to approximately the size of a football team, Gelb has also ambitiously conceived Tucson as a 19-track quasi-autobiographical ‘country rock opera’ about a “semi grizzled man with overt boyish naïveté” set in the Arizona city that has served his maverick muse so well over the last three decades (and vice versa). Those fearing something unwieldy or overblown should, however, rest easy.
Of all the pretentiously unpretentious artistes in indie rock, Giant Sand's Howe Gelb seems like the least likely to do a concept album. Yet here's Tucson, a self-styled "country rock opera" credited to Giant Giant Sand to accommodate the addition of guest singers, a string section, and pedal steel ace Maggie Björklund. Unsurprisingly, given its creator's disinterest in structural confinement, Tucson is less a linear narrative and more a collection of songs with a thematic thread and consistent atmosphere.
The mercurial Howe Gelb has been fronting alt-country legends Giant Sand for over twenty five years, steering the band through myriad line-ups and dalliances with Americana, desert rock and avant-garde noise. In the meantime, Gelb’s rhythm section mutated into Calexico while the man himself had a hand in shaping the careers of Grandaddy and M Ward. The current line-up has been massively expanded to incorporate twelve members, six from the bands hometown of Tucson, Arizona and six from Denmark, where Gelb currently resides.Renaming the band Giant Giant Sand to incorporate the swelling of ranks, Tucson is a sprawling album, steeped in old time country workouts with mariachi flourishes and – usually – Gelb’s timeworn, husky drawl.