"For over two decades, Howe Gelb has worked doggedly and double-time to make it all but impossible to get a good bead on him. In fact, while any number of prominent musicians and artists have joined his orbit, it's still unclear what musical planet Gelb lives on. So goes life in the Arizona desert, where Gelb, both solo and with his ongoing band Giant Sand, has endeavored to make the dust you blow off an LP every bit as important as the music itself.

The ongoing success and evolution of Giant Sand spin-off Calexico may do Gelb no favors in comparison, but the guy clearly doesn't need any. For something as seemingly unfocused as Giant Sand, the band's been remarkably consistent, and proVISIONS is no exception, its array of peyote rock, twilight ballads, space cowboy soundtracks, and spooky sidetracks off the beaten path on par with the band's best work. Still, Gelb doesn't hedge his bets, studding the start of the disc with a string of conspicuous ringers, including appearances by Neko Case ("Without a Word"), Isobel Campbell ("Stranded Pearl"), and M. Ward, whose debut Duet for Guitars #2 was released by Gelb on his OW OM label ("Can Do"). Another track, "The Desperate Kingdom of Love", was written by pal Polly Jean Harvey.

Gelb's no dummy. He knows these famous names will help newcomers pierce his self-adorned cloak of mystery. At the same time, Giant Sand's always been such an informal affair that he also knows that none of these friends will overshadow the music, which is comfortable hanging back in the shadows, anyway. It's there that you'll hear such touches as the return of the Voices of Praise Choir, veterans of 'Sno Angel Like You on "Spiral", or the occasional presence of singer Henriette Sennenvaldt of the somewhat obscure Danish band Under Byen.

Gelb has called Giant Sand "a mood," and that's sure true on cinematic songs such as "Increment of Love" and "Pitch & Sway". Later the loose funk of "Muck Machine", "Saturated Beyond Repair", and the stumbling, obliquely soulful "Belly Full of Fire" find Gelb more forceful and groove-oriented. The latter in particular showcases his unwavering gift for subverting his own strengths, disarming the hooky chorus with an off-kilter arrangement that doesn't sound like it could ever be replicated exactly as is.

It's there in the words, too, where Gelb's lyrics hint at (or overtly reference) Bob Dylan at his most surreal or Tom Waits at his most perplexing, offering wisdom through weirdness and winking wordplay. "Molecule, Molly is nobody's fool/ Comes from an excellent gene pool/ Happy little cells flippin' from her lip and/ Spend the night here screaming for the mother ship/ I ride along surfing on the waves of a lava hip," sings Gelb in "Increment of Love". Such inscrutability can be a real chore in the wrong hands, but with Gelb, getting lost has always been part of the fun. It's not about the destination. It's about the trip."

Joshua Klein

01. Stranded Pearl
02. Without A Word
03. Can Do
04. Out There
05. Desperate Kingdom Of Love
06. Increment Of Love
07. Spiral
08. Pitch & Sway
09. Muck Machine
10. Belly Full Of Fire
11. Saturated Beyond Repair
12. World's End State Park [Wordless]
13. Well Enough Alone

Thøger T. Lund - Bass
Anders Pederson - Guitar/Slide
Howe Gelb - Guitar/Vocals/Keyboards/Shovel
Peter Dombernowsky - Drums/Percussion


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