Howe Gelb & Voices of Praise | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Howe Gelb & Voices of Praise

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Howe Gelb conceived of his latest album after sharing a bill with a pair of black gospel choirs in Canada in 2003. Curious to find out if gospel's soaring harmonies might mesh with his own brand of rickety, lurching roots rock, he asked a church director there if one of the choirs might be open to working with nonreligious material. "Sure, if you keep it positive," he was told. Gelb meets that criterion on 'Sno Angel Like You (Thrill Jockey), recorded with Ottawa's Voices of Praise (as well as Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and a couple of guest guitarists). Though his lyrics are typically oblique, themes of perseverance, acceptance, and redemption run through the album--"Don't tremble and quake / Keep a steady float on the overwhelming wake," he advises on "Hey Man." The record's built around new tunes, a few gems from Giant Sand's oeuvre, and three songs by Gelb's old Tucson pal Rainer Ptacek; Gelb's scrappy guitar playing follows blues and country contours, and though he unleashes a couple Neil Young-ish squalls his songs mostly chug along subtly. Left to his own devices, Gelb sometimes veers into stream-of-consciousness rambling, but writing for a choir seemed to encourage him to better structure his tunes; Voices of Praise arranged and recorded its parts later, carefully accenting Gelb's wry croak with gorgeous responses that never upstage him. Gelb and Voices of Praise are touring together, and though the album's terrific I hope they open these songs up a bit more at this show: Gelb's impish, self-sabotaging tendencies might find an interesting match in the choir's swaying harmonies and stately firepower. Montreal singer-songwriter Angela Desveaux, a new Thrill Jockey signing, opens. Sun 5/28, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $18, $14 seniors and kids. All ages.

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