Howe Gelb - Sno Angel Like You

Howe Gelb
'Sno Angel Like You

(Thrill Jockey)

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2006, Volume 13, #3

Written by Tracy M. Rogers

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The inspiration for íSno Angel Like You, Giant Sand front man Howe Gelbís latest album, came three years ago when Gelb was invited to perform at Ottawa, Ontarioís Blues Fest. The event is held in an array of venues scattered throughout the city, and its organizers gave him a slot at the First Baptist Church. Gelb asked the institutionís director if it would be possible to incorporate a gospel choir into his "sonic muck." The directorís reply? "Sure, if you keep it positive." As a result, íSno Angel Like You is full of ironic yet hopeful reminiscences and reflections on life, during which Gelb wrestles and finally comes to terms with middle age. Musically, íSno Angel Like You is a collection of minimalist, postmodern blues boogies that typically are accompanied only by Gelbís guitar, Jeremy Garaís drums, and vocal backing from the Voices of Praise gospel choir.

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There are no true standout tracks on íSno Angel Like You; there arenít any crescendos or free falls, either. Instead, the album plugs along at an even clip with Gelbís dry, Lucinda Williams-like vocals and the choirís luscious accompaniment at the fore, rendering the actual music almost secondary. The effortís lyrical highlights include Paradise Here Abouts, Hey Man, and But I Did Not ó all of which include two of Gelbís greatest assets as a songwriter: candor and irony. Paradise Here Abouts is an ode to the complexities and uncertainties that come with knowing that life is never entirely black or white. Hey Man, by contrast, finds Gelb addressing his younger self ó and the ignorance and levity of youth in general. The outingís first single But I Did Not offers a contemplation about the minuscule amount of time that humans are given, and it emphasizes the need to appreciate life, rather than become frustrated and self-obsessed.

Some early critics of íSno Angel Like You have treated the album as a mere rehashing of old Giant Sand tunes, but in truth, itís much more. While the set does feature a quartet of songs plucked from Giant Sandís repertoire, it merges them with seven new tracks as well as a trio of covers that originally were recorded by the late Czech blues guitarist Rainer Ptacek, a friend of Gelbís, to create a seamless lyrical narrative. (For the record, Giant Sand did cover Ptacekís The Farm on 2002ís Infiltration of Dreams.) All in all, íSno Angel Like You is an intriguing collection ó an unexpected, upbeat meditation on life and on the lessons and questions that come with growing older. starstarstar Ĺ

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2006 The Music Box