Giant Sand - Returns To Valley of Rain - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Giant Sand - Returns To Valley of Rain

by Howard Scott Rating:8 Release Date:2018-08-10
Giant Sand - Returns To Valley of Rain
Giant Sand - Returns To Valley of Rain

The almost four decades long history of Giant Sand has been nothing if not flexible. Over the years and  through numerous releases, band members have come and gone, record companies were changed with great regularity, and even the musical style of the band could never be pigeonholed. Founding member Howe Gelb, the only real constant in this timeline, has always had a willingness to play with different genres and different players and use the diversity as  a strength for the band.

There are very few groups that would be willing to revisit recordings over 30 years old and jump back into the music that made up their first release. “Valley of Rain” was first recorded in 1983 by the Tuscon based band in a legendary one-day session that involved a total production cost of $400. Released in 1985 on Enigma, the original disc was put down using a Roland JC120 amp, and the solid state circuitry of the machine didn’t do a true job of highlighting the raw power that was such a part of the early songs. Gelb had never really been pleased with the sound of the record, and decided last year, while the band was on hiatus, maybe for good, that it was time to rectify the past.

It would be easy to think that if an original recording was going to be redone much, much later, that the result would be a highly polished version with minimal flaws. That certainly is not the case with “Giant Sand Returns to the Valley of Rain”, which will be released on Fire Recordings  on August 10th. The recording is a live- sounding experience, without the distraction of overwhelming crowd chaos. Background noises, such as mild chatter, coughing, whistling and  other unfiltered sounds can be heard. Count-ins to the cuts are frequent, and even a false start on Down On Town (Love’s No Answer) are in full evidence. The recording suffers not at all from these quirks. This is hard core, in -your- face rock with none of the electronic wizardry or studio coldness that we have come to expect, and maybe even detest. The only real upgrade in equipment on the new platter is the use of a Fender 30 amp, which was actually a contemporary component to the first recording.  The old Fender’s tubes do a masterful job of waking up the  guitars, and making the entire project sound like it probably should have initially.

The original band of musicians that played on the 1983 recording are in attendance on several of the new remakes. Gelb, of course, handles keyboard, vocal  and guitar duties while drumming loads fall to Winston Watson and Tommy Larkin. Original bassist  Scott Garber travelled to Tucson from his domicile in Austin to contribute as well. Current members Thøger Lund, Gabriel Sullivan and Annie Dolan also contributed their talents to the project. Interestingly, Sullivan and Dolen had yet to make their appearance on planet Earth when the  original recording was finalized.

The lay of the land with” Return” is not identical to the first release. The new recording opens with “Tumble and Tear” where the title track was the introductory song originally. “Tumble and Tear” grabs you from the first note like very few songs do  and announces that this is a basic ROCK band that you will be listening to. It jolts you, demands your full attention, and gives you a taste of what is to come.

The title track should have been a top 40, if not top ten, hit for Giant Sand. The beautiful melody,  guitar work  as infectious as the common cold and pounding foundation are as pleasurable to listen to as anything else of that, or any, era. Its a finely crafted tune that has to apologize for nothing. The era of its release may have well cost it its success. By the mid eighties the punk movement had softened and split, and the popular music charts where dripping with overproduced, highly saccharine offerings from bands like Tears for Fears and Wham!. A tune like “Valley of Rain” most likely fell through the cracks. We (and the band) are the poorer for it.  On a 25th anniversary release of the disc in 2010, an instrumental version was included as a bonus track, and it is a personal disappointment that a remake was not done this time. I would have loved to hear it with the updated touch. Gelb’s keyboard work is worth the price of admission all on its own.

A noticeable difference on every song offered is the tone  of Howe Gelb’s voice. Years of touring and playing smoke filled rooms have caused his voice to deepen a bit more to what was already a pleasing rich baritone. Robbie Robertson, in his post "The Band" solo years comes to mind. It gives the whole production a warmer feeling than the original. Very few vocalist’s voices improve with age, (I can think of a couple of British guys with Sir before their names as prime examples) but Gelb seems to have become the exception here.

I read Giant Sand described once as “criminally under appreciated.” The reasons for that probably are varied. The roster turnovers, the lack of a consistent, high profile record deal, the musical clutch-less gear shifting most likely all combined to keep the band out of the mainstream. Their influence on groups that came along later, however, can not be ignored. Southwest based and sounding troupes like The Handsome Family take a chunk of their sound from Giant Sand, as do American sort-of-punk bands like Green Day. The new recording definitely gives one the feeling of “what might have been” for the band from the desert.

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