Giant Sand – Chore Of Enchantment (reissue)

Giant Sand - Chore Of Enchantment

As one of the most aptly-named albums in Giant Sand’s vast discography, 2000’s Chore Of Enchantment is a testament to forging magic out of adversity.  Widely-regarded as one of the best – if not the best – in the group’s sprawling canon, Chore is a kaleidoscopic collection, like R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, against which everything before and after it will forever – rightly or wrongly – be measured against.

Recorded in the wake of tragedy (the death of Howe Gelb’s desert-bluesman soul mate Rainer Ptacek), against extracurricular distractions (with Joey Burns and John Convertino’s Calexico side-project becoming a more successful standalone proposition), under label pressures (from V2 Records, which eventually declined to release the album on completion) and with three different producers in three different cities (John Parish in Tucson, Jim Dickinson in Memphis and Kevin Salem in New York), it’s ultimately an achievement that the now-reissued Chore actually reached the finish line, let alone become one of Giant Sand’s most defining and remarkably cohesive releases  It’s an even greater feat that in the face of such fragmented and fraught construction that the record is blessed with such life-affirming humanity, humour, romance and rejuvenation.

Richly eclectic yet grounded within the bedrock of a strong suite of songs, Chore documents Gelb having his cake and eating it.  Whilst losing only a little of his uncompromising eccentricity, the LP solidifies his muse into scholarly mature shapes.  On the more wayward side, the album throws its curveballs with rambunctious flair but also well-measured finesse.  Hence, the gloriously gooey swamp-funk of “Temptation Of Egg” (with Juliana Hatfield’s honey-combed tones spread into its grooves) skilfully salutes Beck’s Odelay; the one minute or so screeching sludge of “1972” makes a fleeting nod to The Stooges; the careering “Satellite” twists The Crazy Horse riffage of 1994’s Glum into a mercurial epic statement; and the percussive loop splendour of “Wolfy” prowls with playfully imaginative studio trickery.

However, whilst such sonic experiments help give Chore the diversity needed to justify its original 16-track largesse, the real heart of the affair lies with the slew of heartfelt ballads and slow-motion meditations, which have their own range of stylistic stretching too. Thus, the spine-tingling “Shiver” glides with cosmic country-rock motions; the blissfully atmospheric “Astonished (In Memphis)” sways with moist gospel-slanted sensuality; the goose-bump inducing intimacies of “Dirty From The Rain” and “Raw” capture late-night ruminations with unpretentious grace; and the jazz-tinged barroom philosophising of “Bottom Line Man” and “Way To End The Day” plug into redemption with curling uplifting wordplay.

Regardless of individual moods and settings, throughout proceedings Chore is blessed with some of Gelb’s richest songwriting, with divine lyrical details that peel back layer-upon-layer without some of the fog and surrealism that has often kept listeners at a greater distance.  Perhaps the only real criticism raised about Chore, that should only be given some modest consideration, comes via assessment of the higher-end production values of Kevin Salem – who even drafted in session musicians – that give the record a level of polish slightly out of spirit with Giant Sand’s organic methodology.  The key addition to this new reissue of the contemporary tour-CD – The Rock Opera Years – goes some way to imagining what Chore could have become if John Parish had manned the desk for all the proceedings as well as justifying Salem’s final cut of Chore.  Amongst its 13 richly-picked yet more ragged tracks resides four Chore pieces in looser form (including a fantastic Francophile-scented alternate “Astonished”), the murky unused “Chore Of Enchantment” itself; the rocking music industry satire of “Rock Opera,” reworked older Giant Sand and Gelb solo songs and a sublime guest-adorned cover of Neil Young’s “Music Arcade” (featuring Victoria Williams and Evan Dando). All in all, The Rock Opera Years presents a complementary extension but not a replacement for Chore.  Those with the time and tenacity could probably merge both discs and whittle things down to one re-sequenced, less varnished and perhaps more holistically representative selection, but it’s better to just play both collections back-to-back to celebrate one of Giant Sand’s most fertile and unrepeatable phases.

In short, if you’re only considering buying a couple of Giant Sand reissues in this current repackaging splurge, be sure as hell to include this bounteous bundle on your shopping list.  You have nothing to lose but nearly two hours buried in an avalanche of riches.

Fire Records