Rhythm & Views

Giant Sand

It's not hard to imagine Giant Sand's Howe Gelb sitting on the roof of his adobe in the old barrio in Tucson with a pair of homemade antenna on his head, grabbing random bits of ephemera out of the sonic stew of the universe. The murky line between the random/improvised and the tightly plotted has always been a hallmark of Giant Sand's music, and the perfectly titled "Is All Over the Map" again percolates with equal parts spit and polish.

During 15 tracks Howe, producer/player John Parish and a largely Danish line up loosely corral bits of squalling or squiggly electric and acoustic guitars, along with Howe's distinctive piano and lap steel, mandolin, organ and percussion, all grounded by a swinging rhythm section. The songs are, unavoidably, all over the map. On the opener "Classico," Gelb wraps his warm tenor around a classic loping Giant Sand groove while who-knows-what skitters and squeaks in the background. Scout Niblett ads spooky vocal back-up to the lumbering, feedback-drenched "Remote," and Vic Chesnutt helps along "A Classico Reprise." Danish vocalist Marie Frank chimes in on four tracks, including the lovely "Cracklin' Water" and the utterly charming "Napoli." "Rag" sounds like a player piano with a bottle of whiskey poured over the strings. Some how(e) uniquely, profoundly American despite the international cast, and possessed with a restless, globe-trotting spirit, Howe Gelb and Giant Sand sound at home everywhere and nowhere all at once.