Howe Gelb - Sno Angel Like You

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2016-09-30

If Mark Eitzel is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco and Mark Lanegan the Poet Laureate of Seattle, then Howe Gelb is the Poet Laureate of Tucson. But with this particular solo album, the Giant Sand leader did something different. Recorded a live album with a gospel choir. The inspiration came during a Blues festival in Ottawa when a power shortage required a venue change and Gelb found himself sharing the bill with a vocal choir group called, Voices of Change. Sometime later, he brought his players in and cut ‘Sno Angel Like You with the group. The results are spare, plaintive and beautiful.

Things kick off with the funky Gospel infused, ‘Paradise Here Abouts’, Gelb taking on the part of slacker preacher and the Voices of Change clap along, singing to the rafters. It would all come off as contrived if it didn’t sound so raw and off the cuff. ‘Dirty from The Rain’ is a more ruminative number featuring the choral group effectively on the chorus. ‘That’s How Things Get Done’ funk things up again while ‘Sprial’ finds Gelb in lonely man at the piano mode doing a little sermonizing of his own.

Despite a great title, ‘Robes of Bible Black’ is a little too tongue in cheek for its own good, verging on parody. ‘Vortexas’ however, brings it all down to a moody whisper before ‘Ballad of the Tucson 2’ finds Gelb in familiar Bluesy territory. From here on out the album just keeps getting better and better. You have the woozy, ‘Hey Man’ and positively rousing ‘Worried Spirits’, an album highlight. ‘Howlin’ Gale’ keeps spirits soaring. ‘Nail in The Sky’ is another somber moment enhanced by the haunting vocals of the Voices of Change.

This isn't the kind of album that pats itself on the back for its own novelty. In the wrong hands it could all come off as a cheesy gimmick. What keeps that from happening is Gelb's mixture of conviction and humor. And it is clear he is fascinated with the Gospel choir he is working with. All in all, there’s little to quibble about. As far as experiments go, Sno Angel Like You pays off.

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