After last year's superb Chore of Enchantment, one of Giant Sand's best albums and its most coherent in a decade, leader Howe Gelb has released yet another record where he doesn't manage to sabotage himself. That's not to say he's not trying: his new solo album, Confluence (Thrill Jockey), was recorded in at least eight different locations at varying degrees of fidelity and with shifting personnel--sometimes within the same song. The remarkably cohesive opener, "3 Sisters," grafts a session from England onto one done at home in Tucson with a different band, and "Vex (Paris)" blends conversations captured on a tour bus with some froggy accordion noodling. Gelb's generally in introspective mode these days, singing elliptical zingers in a cracked whisper: "If I live my life in routine would you make the meantime / A little less mean?" he requests in "Saint Conformity," and in "Pontiac Slipstream" he speculates quietly that "If a feller named Monroe never fathered bluegrass / He would still be unrecognized as the grand wizard of speed metal." From brief instrumental sketches like the piano-and-organ soundscape "2 Rivers" to the conversational folk-rock gem "Blue Marble Girl," most of the songs are given their spark by seemingly spontaneous subtleties, like a sudden catch in Gelb's voice or some fartlike Farfisa interjections, so it's almost shocking when the album closes with "Slide Away," a loud guitar epic in the vein of Gelb's old hero Neil Young. Here Gelb will perform solo, with no collaborators to nudge him back on track, so consider yourself warned. Freakwater's Catherine Irwin opens. Friday, June 22, 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Carter.