“If something ain’t broke around here/ You don’t fix it,” sings Howe Gelb on Arizona Amp and Alternator’s title track. He’s got a point: For more than twenty years, Gelb has been making lo-fi Americana to great acclaim, most often as the critically acclaimed Giant Sand. Here, on the self-titled debut under pseudonym Arizona Amp and Alternator, Gelb channels his inner country for eighteen tracks of sparse, bluesy country rock. To great effect, the record can be simple and quiet, such as standouts “Where the Wind Turns the Skin to Leather” and “Velvet and Pearl.” Gelb’s instrumental twists – such as the distortion-drenched quasi-metal mini-solo in “The Leaving You” or the tremolo synthesizer on his cover of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – are subtle yet quirky enough to set him apart from a thousand other singer/songwriters.
But it’s Gelb’s distinct voice and lyrics that stand out. Not quite as plainspoken as Cash or as twangy as Willie Nelson, Gelb instead treads closer to the dark whisper of Tom Waits, the tone of Lou Reed, the transistor-radio fuzz of M. Ward (who appears on the title track). Gelb sums things up on “Vows”: “Lovin’ the music too damn loud/ Turning up that old Johnny Dowd/ Celebrating the next storm cloud/ Feelin’ so proud/ Go on and say it out loud.” Like Cash and Reed before him, Gelb says exactly what he means. No matter what he calls himself, we should listen.
Howe Gelb on Thrill Jockey’s Web site