Howe Gelb on Unknown Sundays 2023

There are a lot of talented singer-songwriters out there (there still is, as this article was done back on September 25th of 2016).  There are some that you keep track of that are just not mainstream popular because their talent speaks to you from the first moment you hear them, and continues album by album to some degree.  Then, there are those that you enjoy, but you lose track of them as the year ends, as the next year starts, and you suddenly are re-discovering them because you really (unfairly, unless you are the Quentin Tarantino of music memory) can’t remember and follow everything you really like (that’s being honest, as you know I do try to listen to everything despite the impossible task it is).  These are truly the unfortunate moments in the music multiverse in my opinion.  So today, I’m going to not only explore an unknown artist (except for those in Tucson and those really paying attention to the explorative alt-country scene for the last decade or more), but I’m going to tell you how I lost track–and how a seemingly new album brought about a musical re-discovery. This “Unknown” Sunday is all about…Howe Gelb, the legend of Tucson and a musician with his fingers on the pulse of alternative country-rock in everything he touches.

The Coincidentalist, that’s  the album where I remember Howe Gelb.  But how I got to there was researching a fantastic collaboration piece–appreciating the stunning, past talent of Rainer Ptacek of Giant Sand, which Howe Gelb has been a major creative force behind for decades. This year (back in 2016 remember) marking the end of the band, which for many is a very sad year indeed.  The Coincidentalist album was three years ago, and I was interested in hearing it because I was really amused by the clever title, and the lyrical, provocative delivery that comes at you with every pun and play of the album title, even in the form of the musicianship.  But, somehow, during that year, I forgot all about Howe Gelb and his three decades of work spanning from solo artist since 1991 to genre bending bands since 1985 like Giant Sand, Op8, Arizona Amp Alternator, and The Band of Blacky Ranchette.  He even is an exquisite producer when he has an ear for an artist (example being Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist, KT Tunstall).

So, imagine my surprise, when I’m looking up this week’s new album list, and there’s this new album (getting wicked love from everywhere) called Sno Angel Like You + Sno Angel Winging It.  I’m thrown by the title, but there was the familiar name, Howe Gelb.  And so, another musical journey courtesy of Mr. Gelb.  And, what a great album!  The accolades are certainly well deserved, but what I got most out of it was a reinvention of clever Raymond Carver storytelling with a much more sly Bob Dylan-like devotion.  There’s all kinds of acoustical genre mystification, bluesy slides, and (as the album’s title suggest) some unconventional–improvisational areas, as well as the interesting live versions that round out the 30 songs for the entire experience.  But, wait a minute!  This isn’t really a new recording at all!  It’s from 2006!  What!?  Yes, this is the 10th anniversary re-issue created masterfully by Gelb, truly showcasing a remarkable record of quick, spontaneous reaction, which apparently came from a gospel intervention (you can read all about that while you further investigate the absorbing genius).

So, what am I saying?  Howe Gelb is worth a broader trip through his history of music and musical collaborations.  The longevity isn’t survival, it’s always evolution, contemplation, and inception.  I’m saying you need to explore the bands and solo works however you like.  Go backward in time, or start at the beginning and see the development–and what the process, passion, and experience has brought to what might be some of the best work of his career.  It reminds me how I rediscovered Neil Young in places, songs, and tributes.  I think it is totally worth it!  There’s more in this catalog than most, and at the end of it all, Gelb’s confidence is showing..that..,“That’s How Things Get Done,” when you’re in his musical presence.

And, I know for certain, whether it’s vocals, piano, guitar or production, that I’m going to remember the name, Howe Gelb.  I am going to seek it out.  He is going to have a lot more air time in my musical multiverse. When you’re done–you might just feel the same!

Sider bar–“Unknown”…this is why you make fantastic re-issues! There are appreciative music listeners who deserve another chance, and artists who value a new audience.  Rediscovery is a truly fantastical experience!  One I wish on every one until the end of our time(s).

SPECIAL ARCHIVE POSTING NOTE

Howe Gelb Albums in my collection:  The Inner Flame – A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek (1996), The Coincidentalist (2013)

This “Unknown Sundays” was done back on September 25, 2016.  While the tribute record above with all its known talent on it, it was Howe that was new to my ear, and  the reason I took the journey.  His album, Cocoon in 2020 comes with a message on Bandcamp directly from Gelb, which certainly speaks to the mind of the time(s).  I wish I would have caught it (as I am only seeing it now that I wrote this article surprised that there had been nothing from him since Future Standards or Not On The Map.  The only reason I saw it was in finalizing the end of this archive article when doing a deeper dive, as this album does not show up on my streaming service at all.  So, here I go to check it out!  Maybe it will come up on a future show or as #album4today on our social media.  For now, you and I have tons of albums to check out between Giant Sand, his solo records, and a few other side projects.  An interesting artist to put on your music multiverse map, if he was not already.   – Mark Kuligowski  [October 29, 2023]

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