Flyinshoes Review

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Howe Gelb, maverick artist and godfather to a desert strand of alt-country epitomised by his own band, Giant Sand, and the better known Calexico, continues his long habit of collaborations by meeting up here with a Spanish flamenco band fronted by master guitarist Raimundo Amador. Having only ever heard snippets of Howe Gelb's work and being completely ignorant of flamenco tradition, I have to take this record at face value and can't offer any insight as to how far either side in this project have departed from their traditional metier.

        To a fair degree, it honestly sounds like they're each doing their own thing and letting the collective sound come together where it may. There is an inherent fit to be found, I feel, in that Howe Gelb's desert music has a strong sense of being located in the Mexican borderlands where Spanish is frequently spoken and acoustic guitar-based music is where it's at. That Mexican guitar style has an accent that relates closely to these flamenco players - but it's not the same thing, and it's many centuries since their forebears shared a homeland. Besides, Howe Gelb's quite inclined to chuck a fuzzy, aggresive electric guitar into the mix, which stirs things up a bit.

        It's Howe Gelb's songs being performed here and he has a very idiosyncratic approach to songwriting, from the banal, wry observations of  4 Door Maverick to story songs - myth-making songs, really - taking  you into strange territory that always seems more cinematic than real.  Every now and then he gives you a hint of the pop song he could write if he felt like it before veering off again down his own particular trail. He tends to murmur and whisper his lines in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Stranger character in those early westerns: you'd better listen to me, but I'm not going to make it easy for you, he's saying. His style is definitively American - individualist, laconic, cynical - and this is the most obvious of the many contrasts highlighted in this collaboration, because his gypsy band make music that is cultivated, beautiful and communal in spirit - music for a social gathering.

         There are songs here when you wouldn't know there was a flamenco band performing because there's nothing remotely Spanish or dance-oriented about the music. One song in particular, Saint Conformity, puts me in mind of The Mothers Of Invention more than anything, whilst One Diner Town has a straightforward, unornamented guitar line that is cut across by a disonant piano as Howe murmurs his disturbing tale of a disturbed mind. All in all, it's difficult to know what to make of this project, to understand what they were trying to achieve. The best, most attractive moments come when Raimundo Amador is in full flow, conjuring astonishingly rich and fluid sounds from his instrument, but the enduring fascination comes from the sense of two cultures turning a light on each other, the better to understand what they're each up to.

John Davy

 

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Year 2016

1
Levi Parham
90 pts.
These American Blues
Music Road Records
GC,JBO,TK
2
Martha Fields
86 pts.
Southern White Lies
Independent
BP,BH,FB,JAB,RW,SP
3
Carter Sampson
75 pts.
Wilder Side
Independent/CRS
AN,CRS,JB
4
Anna Elizabeth Laube
65 pts.
Tree
Ahh...Pockets! Records
DH,NC
5
Michael McDermott
60 pts.
Willow Springs
Pauper Sky Records
BK,MM
6
Shovels & Rope
54 pts.
Little Seeds
New West
 
7
Robert Ellis
53 pts.
Robert Ellis
New West Records
DHO
8
Sturgill Simpson
52 pts.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Atlantic Records
JJ,JF
9
Douglas Greer
50 pts.
Baja Louisiana
Zilker Park Records
HDB,ML
10
Lucinda Williams
46 pts.
The Ghosts Of Highway 20
Highway 20 Records
EM
11
Buddy Miller & Friends
44 pts.
Cayamo Sessions at Sea
New West Records
 
12
Wink Burcham
43 pts.
Cleveland Summer Nights
Continental Song City
 
13
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
42 pts.
C&O Canal
Red Beet Records
BR
14
Brent Cobb
41 pts.
Shine On A Rainy Day
Elektra Records
HH
 
Daniel Romano
41 pts.
Mosey
New West
CVL
 
Leonard Cohen
41 pts.
You Want it Darker
Sony Music
HO
17
Christian Kjellvander
40 pts.
A Village: Natural Light
Tapete Records
BM
18
Drive-By Truckers
39 pts.
American Band
ATO Records
AR,EZ
19
Birds of Chicago
38 pts.
Real Midnight
Five Head Entertainment
LM,SZ
20
John Prine
37 pts.
For Better, or Worse
Oh Boy Records
FS,MB
21
The Cactus Blossoms
36 pts.
You’re Dreaming
Red House Records
GS,HD
22
Richmond Fontaine
35 pts.
You Can’t Go Back
Décor Records
FCE
23
Gillian Welch
34 pts.
Boots No.1: The Official Revival Bootleg
Acony Records
LK,PR,TJ
24
Sarah Jarosz
33 pts.
Undercurrent
Sugar Hill
RM
25
Joe Purdy
32 pts.
Who Will Be Next?
Mudtown Crier Records
AL
 
The Devil Makes Three
32 pts.
Redemption & Ruin
New West

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