Howe Gelb: 'Sno Angel Like You'

Music critic John Brady reviews the album Sno Angel Like You by Howe Gelb. The album features Gelb's country guitar paired with a full gospel choir.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Howe Gelb has been exploring the creative possibilities of the alternative country genre for many years now. On his new album, Sno Angel Like You, he's gone even further and incorporated the sounds of gospel into his music. Critic John Brady says the detour has paid off.

JOHN BRADY reporting:

In October of 2003, Tucson resident, Howe Gelb headed to Canada for the Ottawa Blues-Fest. Gelb is best known for combining the high lonesome of country with any number of other musical styles. Listen to the club music backbeat of Wolfie, a song Gelb recorded in 2000 with the band, Giant Sand.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HOWE GELB (Musician): (Singing) Wolves are all around the doorstep; circling like they do.

BRADY: In Ottawa, Gelb encountered a festival scheduler with a taste for musical pairings as adventuresome as his own. On the schedule, Gelb, the scruffy master of alt-country eclecticism, found himself sandwiched between the polished and inspirational musical stylings of a couple of gospel choirs.

Gelb was entranced by what he heard. He convinced one of the choirs from that evening, The Voices of Praise, to record an album with him. The result is the album, Sno Angel Like You. Here's the first cut, the gently swaying Get to Leave.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GELB: (Singing) Make sure your baby's well tucked in a blanket in a basket of a backseat of a wagon that don't run on air. If you can't afford the fuel, pray you get the passion to keep the spirit rolling and get on out of here.

BRADY: Gelb's voice has a leisurely twang. It meanders around the notes, casually drifting away from the strictures of pitch. It has a comfortable, lived-in quality, like a broken baseball mitt.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GELB: (Singing) Hey, man; why save that worries for the older you?

BRADY: Lyrically, Gelb is a desert existentialist. He tends towards hot and dusty expressions of worry and regret, but he never completely tips into despair. The Voices of Praise see to that. Their exuberant and obvious joy help to keep the album on a more or less even keel.

(Soundbite of music)

BRADY: On his many previous albums, Gelb has demonstrated the keen understanding of the virtues of knowing. He will drop sudden bursts of raw guitar scrapings into his songs. The effect is dramatic and delivers a solid, emotional wallop. On this album, Gelb often adopts a quieter approach; that is, until the song Worried Spirits, a rackety composition of propulsive beats, insistent knockabout piano lines and thick, noisy guitar.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GELB: (Singing) Tell me who's going to pick up the pieces when you start to break down. Who will be left to answer your questions? Take a good look around.

BRADY: This spinetingler is the soul of the album. The secular stomp of Gelb's rock rhythms and the choir's righteous song combined forces in an animated boisterous musical exorcism to ward off the worrisome spirits that haunt this song and the rest of the album.

(Soundbite of music)

BRADY: In the end, Sno Angel Like You is a delight. The lyrics are rich with evacuative imagery. The music is transporting, quickly calling to mind some out-of-the-way roadhouse in the desert Southwest, and the counterpoint between the sweet sounds of the Voices of Praise and Gelb's charming gruffness gives the album a pleasing fizz that tickles the ear each repeated listen.

BRAND: Independent music critic John Brady lives in Los Angeles.

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'Sno Angel Like You

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Album
'Sno Angel Like You
Artist
Howe Gelb
Label
Thrill Jockey
Released
2006

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