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Fire Records have recently reissued ‘Sno Angel Like You’ in a tenth anniversary edition with the added bonus of a live recording from 2006, ‘Sno Angel Winging it’.
So what is all the fuss about? The casual music lover will most likely remember Giant Sand and even have a copy of the excellent 2008 album ‘Provisions’ in their collection. Giant Sand hail from Tucson, Arizona and have had a rolling cast of members over three decades but Gelb has always been at the heart of the band.
His uncanny knack of transporting the listener to dusty almost forgotten places is strangely compelling in a lo-fi shoegazy way. Rootsy and often mysterious, Howe Gelb always walks the old road less travelled.
In 2016 he announced the break up of Giant Sand .
The story behind ‘Sno Angel Like You’ is worth recounting. Gelb was due to play a solo set at a blues festival in Ottawa in 2003, and found himself placed between two gospel groups in the local Baptist Church. The power of the gospel sound planted a seed in his creative mind and the next day he met with the leader of the Canadian Gospel Choir ‘Voice of Praise’ with the idea of a collaboration.
The result of this meeting saw the formation of an alliance between Gelb’s alt.country stylings and the power of the Gospel choir which are found on ‘Sno Angel’.
What a wonderful partnership this turned out to be. Opening with ‘Get to Leave’, an old Giant Sand composition, the whole atmosphere of the song is lifted by the introduction of the gospel voices.
Throughout the album the choir bring a sense of joy to the proceedings. The gorgeous harmonies complement Gelb’s downbeat delivery. Sometimes the vocals have a sense of Tom Waits but more often take on a Lou Reed like narrative (‘Howlin’ a Gale’). The soulful ‘Nail the Sky’ has a splendid sense of open spaces highlighted by those holy voices while the excellent ‘Hey Man’ finds the lyricist in gospel preacher mode. ‘The Voice Within’ features a dirty blues guitar for one minute and ten seconds and leaves you wanting more. On reflection then does this unexpected and unlikely collaboration stand the test of time? In my view the answer is a resounding “yes”.
‘Sno Angel Like You’ is raw and bluesy with added gospel and a fine piece of work.