Release Date: Jan 14, 2014
Record label: Fire
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Country-Rock, Roots Rock
Howe Gelb's solo recording career literally began on a whim: Gelb recorded 1991's Dreaded Brown Recluse with his band Giant Sand, but when his record label decided it was too soon for another Giant Sand album, Gelb chose to release it under his own name, and suddenly he had a second career. It was after Giant Sand collapsed for a spell that Gelb began cutting proper solo projects, most of which seemingly evolved from a vague creative notion to a makeshift but heartfelt work of art, and Gelb has brought together eight of his solo albums into a box set, Little Sand Box. While each of these albums has a personality and feel of its own, approached as one massive suite, the consistent themes of Gelb's music certainly shine through -- his sweetly craggy voice, the loopy but emotionally incisive poetry of his lyrics, the performances that seem playful bordering on lackadaisical but pull themselves together before they collapse, and the soundscapes that always seem to conjure images of the Arizona desert, even when he's working in Denmark or Spain.
Howe Gelb seems to be everywhere at the moment. Not only has he released two solo efforts and a Giant Sand album in the last 18 or so months, but Fire have concurrently reissued a bunch of Giant Sand records with bonus tracks and all the trimmings. At last count, there are over 30 Giant Sand albums and another 20 or so Gelb solo releases, not to mention the handful of records he’s put out under other guises.
Having performed the herculean task of bringing the near-entirety of Giant Sand’s core catalogue back into print since 2010, Fire Records now has the somewhat trickier task of sorting out the rest of Howe Gelb’s labyrinthine discography. Whilst side-projects such as The Band Of Blacky Ranchette and Arizona Amp & Alternator patiently wait their turn for enhanced reissues, along comes this generous and meticulously compiled 8CD boxset to get the next logical tranche of the Gelb canon – the bulk of his ‘official’ solo albums – into some semblance of order in one swoop. Exploring this collection in chronological order leads us first to 1991’s long-lost Dreaded Brown Recluse, perhaps the least ‘solo’ of Gelb’s solo albums.
It’s usually easy to pick a side in arguments between music business and artists. From Geffen taking Neil Young to court for making ‘uncharacteristic’ albums in the early 80?s to Reprise turning down Wilco’s eventual commercial breakthrough Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), labels rarely do themselves any favours by questioning artistic decisions. Tucson, Arizona’s ‘desert rock’ pioneers Giant Sand ended up at loggerheads with music biz machinations in the early 90?s when their tour promoters questioned the wisdom of flooding the marketplace with yet another record by the tirelessly productive combo.