Howe Gelb is one of those artists who perfected a particular style early in his career, and despite releasing consistently solid records for decades, his work often goes unnoticed because it doesn’t follow trends or vary too radically from his initial sound. However, this doesn’t mean that Gelb’s releases aren’t extremely eclectic and varied. For instance, one can find solo piano works, collaborations with Spanish gypsy groups, desert-tinged noise rock, and full-lengths with a backing gospel choir among many many other things in Gelb’s discography. These styles may seem radically juxtaposed at first, but part of Gelb’s talent as a songwriter/performer is largely in making these seemingly disparate genres fit in perfectly with his aesthetic. Part of the reason for this is that many of these styles are embedded in Gelb’s sound to begin with, and with each release, a new element often comes to the forefront. It’s for this reason that Gelb’s stylistic explorations don’t seem as radical as, say, David Bowie, and perhaps this is why his records don’t always receive the critical attention they deserve.
Dust Bowl is Gelb’s latest record, and unsurprisingly it’s another excellent synthesis of Gelb’s influences with the stylistic framing of spare folk arrangements this time. This is perhaps one of Gelb’s sparsest records since his late 90s lo-fi releases for V2. However, the bareness of the production here allows the listener to see how Gelb’s raw musical material can serve as a stylistic melting pot even without the clever production of many of his Giant Sand releases. Dust Bowl features everything from the country blues of “Porch Banjo” and “John Deere,” to the jazzy piano ballads like “The Old Overrated” and “Reality or Not,” to the deconstructed desert pop on “Forever and a Day” and the fragile “Man on a String.” All of the material is undeniably Gelb, and as a result, these stylistic deviations are almost imperceptible, but they’re there. The fact that Gelb can create such a spare album that still manages to conjure up a number of styles is a testament to his prowess as a songwriter. It may not be a huge departure from some of his other work, but Gelb excels with subtleties, and Dust Bowl is another superb variation on his signature sound.
You can stream Dust Bowl in its entirety below via Bandcamp:
• Howe Gelb: http://www.howegelb.com