Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies
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Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies

Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain

Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
Band Folk Rock


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Howe Gelb Alegrias"

A lot can be made of Howe Gelb's collaboration with famous Spanish Flameco guitarist, Raimundo Amador. It might trouble some that Gelb decided to venture in this direction, forgoing his propensity for lo-fi Americana in favour of more, how shall we say it, musically clichéd pursuits. And there's no doubt that Alegrias is unafraid of what it is. There are plenty of hacking harmonic minor to major chord progressions and jaw-dropping arpeggios. Spanish guitar, played well, is right up there for its ability to totally stupefy. You can imagine Gelb sitting there with pretty much the same expression. A stew of vacant wonderment and wry envy.

Gelb's Band Of Gypsies provide the rhythmic claps and taps and sultry vocal support, and there isn't a lap-steel in tobacco-spitting distance. Recorded on a sun-laden Cordoba rooftop, the album's tone is almost uniformly sedate, save for very occasional bursts of hotheadedness. Lyrically, Gelb is also in a quieter, more thoughtful place. As ever, Gelb uses surrounding geography for inspiration, but there's nothing Stars-and-Stripes American about Alegrias. It almost feels like Gelb has crossed the El Paso border with little intention of returning. A Giant Sand purists' record, this is not.

But Giant Sand fans needn't all turn their back on Gelb's latest foray. In some ways, and quite predictably, Alegrias' slight movement away from the lo-fi roots rock sound of Giant Sand places Gelb closer to his other musical brethren, Calexico. While nowhere near as nourishing as an album like Feast Of Wire, Gelb has delved a little deeper into himself with Alegrias, employing flashes of Calexico's ghostly, semi-spiritual, semi-redemptive palette to colour his parochial storytelling. Gelb's dryness, both in terms of his lyricism and wit, still remains, however. And this may be this album's deal breaker. It takes time and perhaps a particular time of day and inclination to appreciate Alegrias fully. In the wrong setting, Alegrias' demands are too particular, too specific. In the right setting, Alegrias works like Gelb and his ensemble cast just turned up for your garden patio wedding afterparty.

Like any marriage that's got a chance of working, Alegrias is more than just the sum of its parts. As well as its stellar live production and mixing work (taken care of by John Parish), Alegrias' other trump card is its ability to produce more than just the same argument at varying pitches. Whether it's the marching Flamenco of '4 Door Maverick', the wisened, rambling country-blues of 'Notoriety' and 'The Hangin' Judge', the surprisingly soulful 'Blood Orange' and 'Broken Bird And The Ghost' or the playful Spanish folk-rock of 'Cowboy Boots On Cobble Stones', Alegrias never sips the same poison for any length of time, like a cocktail that doesn't care how it gets drunk. It should be noted that like anything meant to satisfy innumerable tastes, Alegrias is likely to impress and frustrate in equal measure. Name one consistent Howe Gelb record and you're doing well. But being as prolific as Gelb has been over the years, this isn't much of a unhappy trade-off.

Typically, Gelb appears to be saving the best 'til last. Final track, 'One Diner Town', probably the album's simplest track, is a pretty, melancholic tale of quiet love, loneliness and life in a Southwestern state bigger than most countries. "_I want someone to tell my sins to_", confesses Gelb, under his breath. If he ever does find that someone, it'd be a story I'd like to hear someday. - Drowned in Sound

"Howe Gelb & A Band Of Gypsies - Alegrias"

Given how influential a figure he has been, it's hard to understand why Howe Gelb has never quite received his dues as a songwriter. For a start, the rhythm section from his band Giant Sand went on to become Calexico, and his own relaxed parlance was at least contemporaneous with similar deliveries from the likes of Bill Callahan, Will Oldham and Kurt Wagner. Still, of all these idiosyncratic singer-songwriters, Gelb may well be the most obtuse. Melodies are often downplayed in his songs in favour of a particular atmosphere or narrative drive. He has also been mind-bogglingly prolific. It's difficult to know where to launch in to his output. Perhaps as a result, he's never quite made his way out of the cult status box.

Alegrias, although a brilliantly recorded and quietly engaging album, is probably unlikely to change all this. It is the result of an intermittent seven year collaboration with the flamenco ensemble Band Of Gypsies (a genuine gypsy group from Cordoba), although it is so effortlessly coherent that it could easily have been made in the space of a week. The set draws from various stages of Gelb's career, including reworked solo and Giant Sand songs, as well as some material written specifically for this project. As a whole, it is a superlative exhibition of Gelb's storytelling talents.

Gelb's Arizona desert stylings blend remarkably well with the flamenco rhythms provided by Band Of Gypsies. It is one of those meetings of minds that highlights the common ground between music spread over a wide geographical distance. Perhaps Uneven Light Of Day is the best example of how the various elements come together - it veers unexpectedly but effectively between flamenco driven sections and sudden flashes of excoriating guitar. It is strongly reminiscent of the sound captured by Broken Social Scene's Andrew Whiteman in his Apostle Of Hustle project. It is a beautifully atmospheric collection, full of dust and dreams.

Even the song titles are wonderfully evocative. Broken Bird and The Ghost River suggests that Gelb has had more than a coincidental influence on the lexicon of Iron & Wine, with its sense of geography, nature and place. Even more poetic is Where The Wind Turns The Skin to Leather, one of the album's evocative and distinctive highlights. As a lyricist, Gelb is daring and unrestrained. This makes for some extraordinary stories, even if his language can be a little overcooked at times.

Whilst this collaboration certainly retains many of Gelb's defining characteristics, there are surprises too. There's the loose-limbed acoustic funk of Saint Conformity, with its peculiarly abrupt ending. Also unexpected and impressive is the way Gelb reworks early Giant Sand material to fit the sound of this collaboration. (There Were) Always Horses Coming was dark and oppressive in its original version, punctuated by bursts of heavily distorted guitar. Here, it assumes a dusty border music quality, although it loses little of its sense of menace and threat.

In Gelb's disparate and confounding catalogue, Alegrias sits comfortably alongside 'Sno Angel Like You, his wonderful recording with a gospel choir from 2006. In fact, since Gelb started working mainly as a solo artist, these collaborations have arguably been his strongest, most convincing works. His collaborators have provided challenging but appropriate accompaniments for his florid musings. - MUSIC OHM

"The Sandman creates his masterpiece"

I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Giant Sand or Howe Gelb’s eclectic solo work but on this; his 21st (?) solo outing he blends his trademark Tex-Mex Desert music with a band of Spanish Gypsies playing slow and sexy flamenco and the result is staggering in its brilliance.

Individually every track sounds outstanding but when heard in one complete offering (which is a rarity for the download generation) you know that you are listening to something very very special.

Cowboy Boots on Cobble Stone and The Hangin’ Judge conjure up images of Sergio Leone Western movies at their bleakest and Broken Bird & the Ghost River; with Howe’s voice at its gruffest/sweetest along with the beautiful guitar playing of Raimundo Amador in the background is so full of beauty and grace it could be Chet Baker fronting Ry Cooder and the Tijuana Brass.

The reworking of the Giant Sand song When the Wind Turns the Skin to Leather initially sounds like a 1960’s Tex-Mex Pop tune 45 played at 33rpm until you listen to the haunting lyrics and you will keep coming back trying to decipher the hidden meanings; but you will fail miserably.

ALEGRIAS was recorded over several years on a rooftop in Cordoba, Spain but sounds like it was done in one magical take with the sun setting while gazing over a beautiful Andalucía vista.
My favourite song; the scary Tom Waitsian Saint Conformity also manages to contain the best couplet I’ve heard in many a year: “She went from being a small town looker / to dressing like an optimistic myopic hooker”- GENIUS!

Some of my favourite albums of the last 15 years have been from Tom Waits, Ry Cooder, Tom Russell, Robbie Robertson and Billy Bob Thornton and they are all a bit like this with the singer virtually talking over the lo-fi backbeat but ALEGRIAS tops everything that came before it with Gelb’s mixing traditional Country and Spanish Flamenco sounds then seamlessly sliding in his own ‘special formula’ to create a brand new sound that defies categorisation; until you translate ALEGRIAS to English and it becomes……. Joy.

- Maverick, The Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Roots Digital Magazine


Sno Angel Like You
Ogle Some Piano
The Listener
Lull Some Piano



Let's redefine the meaning of crossover. The album recorded by Howe Gelb and a bunch of flamenco gypsies in Cordoba, Spain, sounds like absolutely nothing else you have ever heard before, yet it maintains the familiar flavour of the Arizona desert Gelb has been shaping throughout the years, both solo and as the leader of seminal pioneers Giant Sand. It flows as naturally as if it had always been there, waiting for someone to grasp its pieces and put them together.

Back when Howe Gelb used to live in the desert he only had three tapes he could listen to in his car: Tom Waits, Miles Davis and Tomatito, the virtuoso flamenco player. Many years later, a lucky combination of hazard and destiny found him jamming in a home studio in Cordoba (the studio has now gone professional and is named Recordoba after these sessions) with some local musicians: Lin Cortés, Juan Punky and Añil, Ramos, Inma, Ángela, Rocío, Prin' La Lá. Córdoba, the same city mentioned by Obama in a recent speech as an example of tolerance and cross of different cultures living together: Arabs, Jews and Christians lived together in Córdoba for centuries, and the town retains a certain magic atmosphere you can't find anywhere else.

The gypsies didn't speak English, but they could play Spanish guitar and cajon like only drunk devils can. Howe doesn't speak Spanish, apart from a few useful words he learnt by the Mexican border, but he's got a grainy voice that disarms any listener, and started playing piano in a way the gypsies had never seen. They all instantly fell in love with each other and played for hours without end. Words didn't work, but glances and chords did the job. That same night, in the room downstairs from the studio, Howe wrote four new songs inspired by the intensity of the moment.

In the control room was Fernando Vacas, one of the Spanish top producers of the recent years (the man behind the enormous mainstream success of young Spanish female folk-singer Russian Red). Recording everything and thinking ahead: there might be a record there, not only a friendly meeting. New songs, new sound, a million ideas in his head. On the second session, Raimundo Amador popped in, and that unleashed the magic and took it to even higher grounds. Raimundo is a huge star in Spain, a super talented guitar player who has played with the likes of Björk and B.B. King. He invented the crossover between flamenco and psychedelic rock back in the late 70's with his bands Veneno and Pata Negra, and his contributions to the album are truly mindblowing, including a superb pure flamenco guitar introduction to one of the main tracks on the album, "Cowboy Boots on Cobblestones".

Mixed in Bristol by John Parish, this yet untitled album by Howe Gelb and friends is still a country-folk record, but it has soaked the flamenco flavour and it added bits and pieces of Mexican folk, Cuban and latin music, indie-rock, Morricone soundtracks. Gelb, Vacas, Amador and the rest have managed to capture the magic of this music and present it in the form of an astonishingly beautiful album.