Rhythm & Views 

Arizona Amp and Alternator

In the spirit of Groucho Marx, who remarked that he'd never want to join a club that would consider him as a member, Howe Gelb has dubbed his latest project, Arizona Amp and Alternator, a "band (that) has no members."

But because it's not a Gelb solo album, somebody had to play the music on the Giant Sand man's new CD of the same name, so he enlisted collaborators from far and wide, such as M. Ward, Scout Niblett, John Parish; members of Grandaddy, the Arcade Fire, Giant Sand past and present; and three female vocalists from Denmark.

With such a variety of pick-up players, Arizona Amp and Alternator seems built on a delicious juxtaposition of styles.

The opener "Velvet and Pearl" is a sweet country lullaby, which segues into the jazz-noir "Where the Wind Turns the Skin to Leather." The dark, vulnerable folk of "Man on a String" eases into "Bottom of the Barrel," which travels the path from MOR soft rock to distorted epic, a la Neil Young.

Giant Sand aficionados will recognize some tunes that Gelb has recorded on previous albums. But he never simply recycles such songs as "Blue Marble Girl" or "Loretta and the Insect World," but dusts off, takes apart and reassembles them in the attempt to better understand them.

Perhaps the album's highlight is an amazing cover of Traffic's hippie-glam manifesto "The Low Spark of High Healed Boys." It begins with what sounds like that famous, sustained guitar chord from "A Hard Day's Night" and evolves into a moving, vertiginous meditation of apocalyptic proportions that is faithful to the original but has an artful ramshackle beauty that longtime listeners will recognize as pure Howe.

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