'Sno Angel Like You

Arizona Amp and Alternator

[Thrill Jockey,]

The many fascinating hats Howe Gelb puts on keep surprising me each and every time.
Giant Sand front-man Howe Gelb has a close connection to Canada. He has toured there dozens of times and has fans filling his shows to the brim. It's no surprise then that the inspiration for his new record "'Sno Angel Like You" occurred in the country's capital Ottawa. It was during a 2003 Ottawa Bluesfest performance that Howe discovered the joy of gospel choirs. Fascinated and deeply emotionally moved by a performance by Voices of Praise [the choir that performs on this record], he approached their director and asked "Do you think it would be possible to record with such a sound and not do religious material?" The director agreed as long as things were kept positive. Without the religious factor weighing the songs down, the music still retains its human and spiritual grace at its core. Gelb whispers some of the material, while other sections feature the choir accompanying his lyrical journey full blast. Listen to the opening number "Get to Leave". While Gelb is quietly contemplating a bluesy line, the choir slowly comes in repeating the chorus over and over again. The country feeler "But I Did Not" features the choir in full force, singing doo-wop with utter excitement. Personal favourite is the closing "Chore of Enchantment", where the choir joyfully but with utter care sing a series of hums. The number closes of with genuine touches of organ. This is not a gospel record in the truest sense of the word but it is gorgeous, human music that touches one's heart and moves the spirit.
Arizona Amp and Alternator claim to have no members. In fact, one main member of the ensemble is in fact Howe Gelb, along with friends [M. Ward, Scout Niblett, Marie Frank, Jeremy Gara and others]. This is Howe getting down to business and basking in rough, desert country glory. Gently pulling at your heart strings, he manoeuvres around 18 ditties of love, hate, loneliness, desperation and despair, all told with that poetic Gelb trademark. Much has been said of the supposed "sadness" in Gelb's songs, though strangely enough I hear much joy waiting to be experienced. Listen to the quiet joy in "Can Do Girl" or the masked-over, humbling beauty of "Talula and the Last Straw". His voice on the latter number, though barren at times is especially rich in emotion. Reality is, Gelb is not sad. He just prefers the quiet country guitar ramblings that remind him of the desert, while he now makes his new life part-time in Denmark. I don't think Denmark has any deserts or cacti for that matter, which is why he made this postcard from home to remind him of, well, home.

- Tom Sekowski

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