by Jim Nintzel
Who Is the Real Howe Gelb?
Playing in multiple bands simultaneously is nothing new for stage-struck musicians who will do almost anything for their art. Certainly Howe Gelb is neither the first nor the best player to go that route. In two quick years, however, he has managed to strike an impressive if somewhat manic balance between his new wave/streetwise Giant Sand (formerly Giant Sandworms) and his desire to play hard but authentic country music, longings that go back to his tenure with Ned Sutton & the Rabbits.
Since moving to Los Angeles in the late 1984 he’s released one album with Giant Sand, one album with The Band of Blacky Ranchette on a French label, has toured bits and pieces of Europe (and is about to depart for the continent again) and has just completed the final mix-down for Heartland, Blacky’s second album.
Unfortunately, the Band of Blacky Ranchette, a legitimate Tucson supergroup with Rainer on slide guitar, Jack Martinez on bass, Tom Larkins on drums and Neil Harry on pedal steel, has only been captured on state a handful of times. Their work, however, on Blacky’s first album shows a group feel for the material that’s managed to transcend whatever excess baggage they may have brought along from their won working bands, be in blues, new wave, hard rock or straight country.
Backed by Rainer’s slashing acoustic slide and Gelb’s surprisingly slick work on piano, Gelb plays the consummate urban renegade here, the music cutting but tuneful, and enough on the edge to being almost out of control. Mix this with a lyrical demeanor that is appropriately defiant but by not means mean (“don’t lend me no attitude/I’ll give you a cold dose of rude…”) and you’ve got a Gelb that may be as good as he’s going to get.
Giant Sand on the other hand still needs to mature before it can make any such claim.…
—Jim Lipson, What's Live columnist