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Giant Sand - Blurry Blue Mountain

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Artist: Giant Sand

Album: Blurry Blue Mountain

Label: Fire

Review date: Nov. 22, 2010

It bears notice that no one in the current version of Giant Sand grew up with desert grit between their toes. Bandleader Howe Gelb is originally from Pennsylvania and the rest of his combo comes from Denmark, which is as much his home as Tucson nowadays. And while the Sand sound has never been fixed, the current version feels less like a breeze blowing through the Saguaro than a sort of all-purpose Americana. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; the humid “Brand New Swamp Thing” sounds both Memphian and droll, and its stuttering guitar and surreal takes on desire and domesticity are pretty fun.

Gelb may aim for statements about love and death and friendship and staying the course when you feel like packing it in, and sometimes he nails it. “Fields Of Green” mixes wincing acknowledgement of the ceaseless parade of loss that is longevity’s inevitable reward with pinches of survivor’s wisdom for whatever young ‘uns happen to have gathered round the old man’s mike stand; from its tightly coiled guitar fills to its muttered vocal, “Better Man Than Me” is simply terrific.

But there are too many moments on Blurry Blue Mountain where Gelb’s insights, while inarguable, are rather obvious — if a beautiful woman loves you, you should appreciate it — and his delivery of them a bit tired. Which they were — he confessed in a press release that Blurry Blue Mountain’s recording sessions took place with everyone involved on the verge of sleep. That might explain the record’s somewhat uneven quality, but maybe not; Gelb admitted to me in an interview 20 years ago that he once drove a producer to distraction because he just couldn’t play a part the same way twice, no matter how hard he tried.

Over the course of three decades, Gelb has managed to make two albums that are great all the way though: Chore of Enchantment and ‘Sno Angel Like You. He’s made dozens that are uneven, and this is another one.

By Bill Meyer

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