Although released to approximately coincide with the 25th anniversary and reissue of the band’s Valley Of Rain debut LP, Howe Gelb’s latest album with Giant Sand is – in typical contrary form – far from being a magnanimous celebration or ex-member reunion affair that some might have expected. In fact, it’s a rather subdued set, picking-up where 2008’s proVISIONS left-off by taking that record’s nocturnal desert-highway cruising further into rueful and romantic rusticism, with the latter-day Giant Sand line-up powering a largely low-noise engine for Gelb’s solitary steering.
The opening acoustically-pattered “Fields Of Green” is destined to have Gelb fanatics paw over its lyric sheet, as he seems to openly review his career to date and address his elder statesman status; “Now I amble over fifty/And the longest hours move so swiftly/Such young fresh folk look to me as pathfinder.” The ensuing cherishable “Chunk Of Coal” steps back from autobiography into barfly philosophising, like Tom Waits after some restorative throat surgery. Proceedings then gently glide forward through the doleful “The Last One,” the slow-grooves of “Monk’s Mountain” and the amorous twinkle ‘n’ twang of “Spell Bound.”
By its midpoint, the album becomes a little more playful and ragged. Hence the vintage Johnny Cash-like storytelling of “Ride The Rail” leads to a slightly rambling duet with Lorna Kelly (“Lucky Star Love”) just ahead of a riotously ragged revision of the near-antique “Thin Line Man” (originally heard on 1986’s Ballad Of A Thin Man). “No Tellin’” proffers a little more wistful balladry before another Giant Sand relic is resurrected with a rockabilly-reshaped “Brand New Swamp Thing.” Things calm down once more for the pedal-steel driven sauntering of “Erosion” and the cocktail jazz shimmy of “Time Flies.” In their wake, “Better Man Than Me” stomps in with a murky threatening chug that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1994’s seminal Glum. With the finale of “Love A Loser” Gelb signs off from the piano stool, Kelly sharing the mic again, with yet another slow-burning reflective number.
Picking through Blurry Blue Mountain in stages, there is evidently a decent fistful of individually strong moments but taken as a whole its meandering, undemonstrative nature does make it feel like a somewhat makeweight collection; one that will appeal to few people beyond the existing Giant Howe fanbase. However, given that the admirable longevity of Howe Gelb’s recording career owes much to playing the long game, regardless if anyone is listening along all the time, he’s unlikely to lose any sleep over some relative indifference to just one album.