Giant Sand – Heartbreak Pass

Giant Sand - Heartbreak Pass

Giant Sand – Heartbreak Pass

Returning to his core operations with Giant Sand – after two somewhat overlooked solo albums in 2013 (The Coincidentalist and Dust Bowl), a side-project collaboration with Radian and more time overseeing further entries in his still ongoing back catalogue reissue programme – Heartbreak Pass finds Howe Gelb commemorating thirty years since the band’s The Valley Of Rain debut with a collection summarising and expanding upon three decades of multiple turns and twists.  In convoluted Gelbian language this means that “there are 3 volumes of 15 songs here representing living 2 lives for 30 years.”

In less contrary terms it transpires that Heartbreak Pass is split into three movements, recorded everywhere from Brussels and Berlin to Portland and Tucson and peppered with new/old accomplices.

The slightly uneven first ‘volume’ is loose, raw and sprightly in varying guest-filled configurations; swinging through the cryptic dusty blues of “Heaventually” (featuring Grant-Lee Phillips and John Parish), the ragged yet soaring Center Of The Universe self-referencing “Texting Feist”, the Steve Shelley and Sacri Cuori backed voodoo-rockabilly of “Hurtin’ Habit” and the Jason Lytle-assisted synth-driven “Transponder”.

The more considered second ‘volume’ explores the most familiar latter-day Giant Sand territory, with the group exploring some soothingly meditative and wry Gelb songs.  This segment leads us through the droll acoustic shuffle of “Song So Wrong”, the gorgeous gospel-Mexicana of “Every Now And Then” (with The Voices Of Praise choir returning to the fold), the epic Americana of “Man On A String” and the dryly amusing autobiographical trials of domestic and touring life documented in “Home Sweat Home”.

The final ‘volume’ offers up the most reflective and heartfelt suite of songs Gelb has recorded with his amorphous band in some time.  It yields the unguarded romantic paeans of “Eye Opening”, sultry duets with Lorna Kelly in the shape of “Pen To Paper” and “Gypsy Candle”, the wordless cocktail jazz musings of the punningly anointed “Bitter Suite”, the sun-dried ruminations of “House In Order”, the sumptuous gospel-framed “Done” and a sublime wispy folk exchange between Gelb and his daughter Talula (“Forever And Always”) to close proceedings.

Like the band’s 2012’s Tucson LP, Heartbreak Pass is perhaps a tad too long to digest easily in one sitting. Yet its warmth, scope and consistency makes for an album that defiantly and enjoyably belies the age of Howe Gelb and his most-loved brand.

New West Records