Giant Sand - The Sun Set Vol. 1 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Giant Sand - The Sun Set Vol. 1

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2016-04-21

Giant Sand have been recording since the mid 80’s, and throughout their long career, their eclectic sound has gone through many changes but never their vision. Despite an ever changing line up, the one constant has been singer/songwriter Howe Gelb. If Mark Eitzel is the poet laureate of San Francisco and Mark Lanegan of Seattle, the same goes for Gelb of Tucson. Vocally, his range verges from Bill Calahan croak to the acerbic sneer of Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowry. Musically, Giant Sand’s sound is hard to describe but the minute you hear them, you know immediately who it is. Wit that’s desert dry. Songs that unfold like an open road full of twists and turns.

With a band so prolific and long established, it’s a little daunting knowing where to start. Fortunately, The Sun Set Vol. 1 makes it easier for you. With 5 cd’s boasting 100 tracks, you won’t find a more generous overview. One that jumps around through the years, yet touches on much of their classic work. Sun Set picks up with 1986’s Ballad of a Thin Line Man which sure as hell doesn’t sound like 1986. Stylistically, it’s all over the map, from the acoustically sparse ‘Graveyard’ to rockers like ‘Hard Man To Get to Know’ . In addition to skewered covers of Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and Johnny Thunders’ ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’.

Things then jump ahead to 2010’s Blurry Blue Mountain with its Jazzy Torch ballads like ‘Chunk of Coal’ to the Alt. Country of ‘Ride the Rail’. If you mixed Happy Trails and Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ you’d get something like ‘Lucky Star Love’. ‘Better Man Than Me’ is one of my favorite Giant Sand Songs encapsulating everything I love about them. Their eclecticism, sense of play and twisted heart.

Tracks 26-42 visit 1992’s Center Of The Universe, more of a driving Rock album with some Pop touches. At times it brings the Pixie’s loose sense of mayhem to mind, especially with ‘Off Ramp Man’.  As for ‘Year of the Dog’, its the Alternative hit that never was. Their ‘Here Comes Your Man’. The same can be said for the irresistible ‘Milkshake Girl’.

Next up is their critically acclaimed masterpiece, 2000’s Chore of Enchantment. In many ways it is the quintessential Giant Sand Album. You can feel the sun beating down mercilessly on the rusted hood of an abandoned car in the dreamy silence of the desert afternoon on this one. Songs like ‘Punishing Sun’, ‘Raw’ and ‘Shiver’ are Giant Sand at their finest. I’d say it is Giant Sands' most experimental album, but they’re all experimental. It is certainly one of their most beautiful. In addition, there is a generous helping of priceless bonus tracks from Chore like ‘Rock Opera’, the haunting, ‘Francois’ and the gorgeously woozy track from which the album got its name.

Tracks 73-89 cover 1994's Glum, an album that beautifully lives up to its title. Sparse and full of grumpy guitars, songs like ‘Painted Bird’ are among my favorites from this band. Also on offer are plenty of gems in bonus tracks including the dark, eerie ‘Remain Distorted’. A true highlight from this 5 cd set.

The Sun Set Vol. 1 ends with 1995’s raucous, live Goods & Services. Kicking off with the suitably demented ‘Back To The Black And Grey’, the atmosphere is as tense as its devil may care. In terms of its raw moodiness, it brings Neil Young’s dark opus, Tonight’s The Night to mind. It also features a priceless, doomy version of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain featuring the late great Vic Chesnutt on vocals. My, how he is missed.

Considering this is Vol. 1, we can look forward to other volumes covering the likes of Cover Magazine. Without a doubt Giant Sand are one of a kind and along with the likes of Guided By Voices, they’re a national treasure. Gelb and the Giants will be parting ways this year and this series of box sets is their parting gift. One couldn’t find a better place to shake hands and get acquainted than The Sun Set Vol. 1. 

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