Monday, April 11, 2011
Howe Gelb - Sno Angel / Melted Wires split on Fort Lowell Records
I got an advance copy of this split single from the ever prolific, Fort Lowell Records by one of the legends of alt-country, before it was alt, Howe Gelb. Keeping with the label's geographic theme, Howe is based out of Tuscon and this single unites a couple of his projects onto one split opaque deep blue marble vinyl. Fort Lowell gives this the standard deluxe 7" treatment with a double-sided foldover cardstock sleeve, download card and inserts for everything from the photography to it's subjects. All seemingly separate elements coming together, all essential to the process, and James connects the dots. Like that old expression, 'It takes a village to press a great single'.
The A-Side track 'Spiral' from Sno Angel is Howe on vocals and piano with the Voices of Praise choir backing him up with their angelic harmonies. This could easily go a few rounds with Leonard Cohen's best, tackling those major theme's, the apocolypse content; things are getting hotter, the waters are rising, a massive 'spiral down'. Recorded live in Ottowa, you can clearly hear intimacy of the changing distance to the mic, the huge hall echo and even the release of piano foot pedals. It's going to make you reconsider all of Howe's efforts these past 26 years, and solidifies his place, again, alongside those greats.
It's hard not to sound perfect with a choir softly echoing your vocal behind you. But those aren't even the more moving moments which come from the quieter parts and Howe's disarming vocals. You can take away all his previous achievements and consider this great completely on it's own. Balancing these heavy themes, while keeping it in perspective with the opening line: 'There's a lot of people having a hard time tonight', in that conversational vocal that's really not even trying to sing, an effortless storytelling kind of feel with the carefully crafted sound and skill of a Tom Waits, all those classic songwriting roots running up through it. It figures when you strip everything away to these bare elements and it's this moving, it's going to be around for a long time...which is no surprise coming from the founder of Giant Sand.
These are both great sides to turn up and hear that space on vinyl, the crystal capture of the little details next to the rising choir and full instrumentation.... or Howe's solo vocal. You're going to want to track down Sno Angels Winging it on Ow Om Records.
The B-Side has another project of Howe's, Melted Wires who recorded 'Cordoba in slow motion'. It's a moody, space filled instrumental, all captured perfectly within this 7" groove. The silences, the light brush of a snare or cymbal against a thumping drum kick. There's layers and layers of subtlety here. Recorded like historic jazz loft jam sessions, this project consisted of 2 members of Giant Sand and two from Calexico. There's no mistaking Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet, but where it's coming from is another matter entirely. This huge sounding space of this recording is unintuitive, the piano so upfront you hear the hammers striking strings, then between the far away hushed drums, heavily mixed left, the trumpet isn't anywhere in the middle?...it's a great effect and with any natural speaker separation, it's completely intensified by this capture and mix, you can really get in there and feel the smoke in that dimly lit room. Record players are meant for jazz after all and it's got that feeling of countless Blue Note records I'm now going to go listen to.
Get this one by supporting your local record store on Record Store day or straight from Fort Lowell when it becomes available. There's also couple of signed test pressing contest giveaways going on over at Fort Lowell for this one, as well as live shows scheduled this weekend for Record Store day.
Apparently James still has too much time on his hands.