Giant Giant Sand

Fire Records, 2012


REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


Don't be confused, this is in fact Giant Sand, the brainchild of Howe Gelb. Since Gelb has bulked up on his roster of musicians this time around, though, it only seemed fitting that he double up on the word “Giant” as well. Named after the town he has called home for four decades now, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tucson is a self-described country rock opera with a storyline, one of the few avenues Gelb hasn't explored in his three-decade plus career.

This album tells a story about a man with a boyish and idealistic demeanor who leaves the city and his former self for a life-altering excursion, and it finds Gelb and company taking on perhaps their most intriguing listen in recent years. The boy finds plenty of distractions along the way, including Mexican jail and the hope of new love. The plot twists and turns, which only makes sense, considering Tucson is over an hour long.

With an additional string section, pedal steel musician, and female guest vocals, Giant Giant Sand certainly live up to the country rock label, but they also take on hints of honky tonk swagger, blues traces, and gritty alt-country. On “Adios Loser,” they put Mariachi trumpets and accordions to good use, invoking a sound not far from more recent Calexico albums. The bluegrass moments are abundant, from “Thing Like That” and the maudlin “Plain Of Existence.” It's far from a subdued affair, though. On “The Song Belongs To You,” things get restless with flamenco stabs, and it is probably the most upbeat part of the disc. The best moment comes on a jazzy, sexy duet with Lonna Kelley, “Ready Or Not,” which is an instantly memorable track with timeless appeal.

After 25+ albums, you'd think that Giant Sand would be on autopilot by now, but Gelb continues to reach into a deep bag of creativity. Anyone who enjoys anything resembling country rock, blues, and dusty, graceful Americana will find Tucson an alluring, accomplished listen with a high level of sophistication.

Rating: B

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© 2012 Tom Haugen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.