Howe Gelb, dreaded brown recluse, has been a musical volcano amidst the Arizona desert for quite some time, both as a solo and with Giant Sand. His style is reminiscent of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Tom Waits, not so much because he’s lacking a pop-perfect voice, but because it seems to be merely a conduit for whatever fantastic meanderings his poetic mind produces, without any pretension or calculation. Hisser is an intimate document, and the title probably refers to the low fi nature of a lot of this stuff.
Gelb’s style is sparse at best — sometimes there’s not even enough to distinguish what genre it would stand in outside Gelb’s own cosm. Guest players abound, from Giant Sand co-conspirators (and Calexico regulars) Joey Burns and John Convertino to Lisa Germano, the band Grandaddy, and several other satellites who I recognize only from tracking the odd Gelb/Giant Sand project here and there. Their contributions are diverse — Grandaddy’s room-filling stint on “This Purple Child” is an amazing series of perfectly understated moments that includes boxy drums and the most fitting inappropriate sample I’ve heard in some time.
Still, Gelb remains at the center, muttering about the creepers in his yard and his gradual and eventual understanding of the kinship between singer and plant. And things like that. Hisser isn’t easy, and may be downright uncomfortable at times. It’s not the place to start your exploration of an obscure career that spans decades, but it’s a worthwhile addition to any library containing Dylan, Young, or Waits. And there’s plenty more where that came from… OwOm Recordings, P.O. Box 2441, Tucson, AZ 85702; email@example.com