Not long ago the dignitaries of indie rock fell from their pulpits, leaving behind a genre of music that would win over hundreds upon thousands of people. Champions such as Superchunck, Pavement and Yo La Tengo defined a genre of music that was nothing more than inner-self-expression through a variety of styles, blurring together punk, rock and pop. Today, the religion of indie rock seems to have been cheapened by formulaic creations that often force followers into submission. Thankfully, a handful of musicians have kept the flame burning. People such as Giant Sand founder Howe Gelb have always treated indie rock with the utmost respect, creating music from the heart without worrying about what summer festival schedule to lock down next.
On ‘Sno Angel Like You, Gelb’s fifth solo release, it’s clear he’s found comfort as a solo musician. His Southwestern roots have always been apparent in his music, but ‘Sno Angel Like You adds to Gelb’s take on Americana with rich gospel undertones. Taking note from Lou Reed’s successes with soulful backup singers, Gelb collaborated with the Canadian gospel choir Voices of Praise to record this album. The result: ‘Sno Angel Like You is not only beautifully performed and recorded, but also wonderfully written. Gelb’s songwriting pulls from early blues, folk and gospel roots, and his husky voice acts the perfect counterpart to the Voices of Praise’s warm backup harmonies.
Openers “Get to Leave” and “Paradise Here Abouts” set the stage for an album that plays like a hearty plate of macaroni and cheese on a hung-over Sunday afternoon. From its clean slide to its simpler country plucking, Gelb’s guitar work is rich with soulfulness. As ‘Sno Angel Like You saunters through its fourteen songs, each gets stronger than the last, and each moment with the Voices of Praise backing Gelb’s hound-dog style keeps the charm-meter growing. “Nail in the Sky” caught a wave in my head and had me singing in belief, “never going to leave, never going to leave, this heart alone.”
It’s reassuring to know some musicians survived the indie-rock sell-out party only to wake up the next morning with the intent to continually improve upon their music. As one of the pioneers behind the Arizona indie sound that spawned Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez, Gelb has firmly placed his thumbprint on music over the last twenty years. ‘Sno Angel Like You is another testament to Gelb’s dedication, talent and pursuit for music that reaches deeper than the inner ear.
Thrill Jockey Records Web site