Review : Giant Giant Sand - Tucson
All MusicA careful look at the cover of the album Tucson reveals that Howe Gelb has credited his band as "Giant Giant Sand," and with the lineup expanded to 12 musicians (and another five cited as guests along with a children's chorus), it's clear Gelb wasn't afraid to think big for this project. And the scale of the ensemble suits the material; Tucson is subtitled "A Country Rock Opera," and with the 19 songs clocking in at just under 70 minutes, it certainly has an operatic scope and an impressive musical heft. In addition to a lyric sheet, Tucson includes a 20-page booklet that attempts to explain the story that ties Gelb's songs together; while the tale is full of atmosphere and telling details, the narrative is murky at best, having something to do with a drifter who frees himself from his possessions, falls in love with a woman he meets at a dancehall, and ends up in an Occupy Tucson encampment with the city's disenfranchised. If Tucson doesn't scan especially well as a story, Gelb's music connects beautifully; shifting between twangy laments, dusty desert rock & roll, stripped-down blues, confessional ballads, and lusty border-town dance rhythms, Tucson conjures up a big and very colorful world in its 19 tunes, and while Gelb's craggy but expressive voice rings through most of these songs, in true operatic form he lets others' characters take the lead from time to time, and Lonna Kelley, Brian Lopez, and Gabriel Sullivan make the most of the spots here, enhancing the changing moods and flavors of this album. ...full text
Paste MagazineThis record is long. To finish all one-hour-and-10-minutes of it, one must commit to feeling a little somber and dusty. It is not music to get stoked to; perhaps swap a letter in “stoked” and then it’s better aligned. Howe Gelb calls it a country rock opera. I call it a slightly schizophrenic, sometimes honky-tonk, alt-country patchwork quilt. It is what it is.
Also, please note that the band expanded, hence the extra “Giant” added to the front of the group formerly known as only “Giant Sand.” Gelb absorbed a new string section and steel pedal player to his Danes Go Southwest troupe. Fellow Arizonan Lonna Kelley joins in with some of the vocal work, too.
Tucson appropriately glorifies Gelb’s adopted hometown. It does a great job of laying out all the melty watercolors of a desert sunset, but as for the opera aspect, it doesn’t quite follow. There’s not much of a cohesive plotline that I could extract. But if you can ignore the lack of narrative, you’ve got a solid enough listen....full text
Alarm magazineEvery writer of dusty Western laments has a few items on his or her bucket list. If you are Howe Gelb, of the long-running Arizona-based Giant Sand, recording an expansive country-rock opera was on it. Or perhaps, after nearly 30 years of making records, it was the only thing left to do?
Gelb, who has settled on a band of well-versed-in-Americana Danes after seeing one his previous casts of musicians depart to a career as Calexico, widens the line-up on Tucson, welcoming a string section, brass, and more Tucson-area musicians into the fold. This is mutant country western where pedal steel and a Nashville shuffle on the snare maintain a trad feel, while everything else is more than slightly tweaked....full text
ElsewhereSounding like a dust-driven Leonard Cohen and/or Elvis and/or Neil Young who has walked out of the desert, the prolific and always interesting Howe Gelb here appears under yet another moniker.
His longtime Giant Sand ensemble is expanded for this "country rock opera" to become, appropriately, Giant Giant Sand.
What that means is Tijuana trumpets alongside Johnny Cash guitar twang, Maggie Bjorklund on pedal steel and string players. And this broad but discreetly deployed musical palette gives a sense of emotional and narrative scope to an album which hooks you in via Gelb's sand parched, up-close vocals....full text
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