CD Review of proVISIONS by Giant Sand
Recommended if you like
Mendoza Line, Meat Puppets, Calexico
Label
Yep Roc
Giant Sand: proVISIONS

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

G
iant Sand has never provided what one might consider an easy or predictable listen. Indeed, their sound drifts from one corner of the musical map to the other, encompassing styles that would likely find even such disparate artists as Ennio Morricone and Johnny Cash nodding with mutual satisfaction. Led by the ever-enigmatic Howe Gelb, Giant Sand parlays that disparity via this latest phase of their meandering musical journey, a restless trek that originated with the first incarnation of Giant Sand more than 20 years ago and eventually morphed over time to include its various offshoots -- Calexico, The Band of Blacky Ranchette and Friends of Dean Martinez, not to mention Gelb’s individual solo ventures.

This time around, their eerie, atmospheric arrangements reflect not only the hallucinatory environs of the Arizona desert that remains their home base and continuing source of inspiration, but also a liberated attitude borne from recording sessions in Denmark, where Gelb found both sympathetic musical support and new ways of working. The results are manifest in a work that’s oddly and unexpectedly compelling, even in its obsession with dark, doom-struck circumstance.

Giant Sand

While Gelb has rarely taken a cue from any outside sources, the dry, heavy-lidded perspective found throughout proVISIONS (his spelling, not ours) frequently brings to mind a bleak brotherhood that includes Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and M. Ward as its charter members. As if to reinforce that Byzantine bond, Ward is actually on hand to lend his talents here. Nevertheless, the sounds say it all, in the languid shuffle and sprawl that informs such songs as the Johnny Cash-inspired “Can Do,” the aptly-titled cosmic carping of “Out There” and the lo-fi piano ballads “Spiral “ and “The Desperate Kingdom of Love.” As the album wraps its way towards a conclusion, the tunes become ever more skewed, and as a result, leave less to cling to in terms of melodic substance. The off-kilter ramble of “Belly Full of Fire” affirms Gelb’s penchant for experimental indulgence, while the noisy, dissonant cacophony of “World’s End State Park (Wordless)” casts a harsh glare on the half-lit sonic surroundings.

While some of Gelb’s more recent offerings seem to have bowed to commercial concerns – at least in terms of scoping out a wider audience – it’s unlikely proVISIONS will bring Giant Sand much in the way of a new following. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for a band that’s so adept at ambiance. If nothing else, proVISIONS offers a most provocative pastiche.

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