Despite its sound — a drifting, slow-motion sandstorm of darkly psilocybined desert-rock gently whipping against the totem-poled baritone of head Giant Howe Gelb — and Gelb’s propensity to meander within the insular, sundrunk sprawl of his own sleep-drawled headspace, proVISIONS is a remarkably focused and intense record. Gelb’s deep, nicotined voice slithers and croons throughout widescreened cineramas of Ennio Morricone-style acoustic soundscapes.
After twenty years of (often beautifully) wandering through a myriad of bass-thump backroads of nightshade Americana, off-kilter country-soul and doom-laden gospel, Gelb has welded his experience into a tightly honed, tar-black desperate drive into a desolate twilight that glows with an eerie beauty. At one point, deep within the stark “Spiral,” the 52-year-old Gelb whispers, “Don’t wanna live forever/ But another generation would be nice.” He sings with a quiet reserve that is truly heartbreaking, a bleakly radiant mood that stretches across the disc’s entirety.
The album features duets with Isobel Campbell and Neko Case and boasts a cover of PJ Harvey’s “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” that not only equals Polly Jean’s original but also overwhelms it with a blurred reverie of late-night despair, making it become a hymnlike search for hope amid the sonic ambience of a ghostly, pale desert-night ambience. Not only does proVISIONS stand as a high-water mark of 2008 music and of Gelb’s career, but it is also the sun-bloodied bar that all other bands of the genre (including names as disparate as Calexico, Neko Case and the Soulsavers) must now aspire to.