Giant Giant Sand: Tucson
This record is long. To finish all one-hour-and-10-minutes of it, one must commit to feeling a little somber and dusty. It is not music to get stoked to; perhaps swap a letter in “stoked” and then it’s better aligned. Howe Gelb calls it a country rock opera. I call it a slightly schizophrenic, sometimes honky-tonk, alt-country patchwork quilt. It is what it is.
Also, please note that the band expanded, hence the extra “Giant” added to the front of the group formerly known as only “Giant Sand.” Gelb absorbed a new string section and steel pedal player to his Danes Go Southwest troupe. Fellow Arizonan Lonna Kelley joins in with some of the vocal work, too.
Anyway, Tucson appropriately glorifies Gelb’s adopted hometown. It does a great job of laying out all the melty watercolors of a desert sunset, but as for the opera aspect, it doesn’t quite follow. There’s not much of a cohesive plotline that I could extract. But if you can ignore the lack of narrative, you’ve got a solid enough listen.
A rollicking exploration in identity crisis, “Forever And A Day” is like a song sandwich within just one track. It starts off with a taunting Toby Keith-esque mantra about leaving town (spoiler alert: he doesn’t). Next, it crashes into a emotional, raw hollering of revocation (which you already prepped for, thanks to my spoiler alert). But then the nanny-nanny-boo-boo swagger returns and the track ends and we’re all confused. Or maybe just I am confused.
“Ready Or Not” oozes out of nowhere, like liquid velvet. It’s loungy as all get-out and wedged in between a “oh hey that’s kinda country” cut and a sad, drunken jukebox jam. I don’t really get its placement. Regardless, Kelley shows her worth in audio gold, taking over the vocals.
Spooky, haunted saloon vibes creep over “Slag Heap,” channeling a cuddlier Tom Waits, marrying Gelb’s and Kelley’s vocal harmonies. Apparently “slag” is a synonym for “cinder,” which doesn’t make much sense in context of the chorus cheerfully chanting “slag it off.” My British friend once told me “slag” is slang across the pond for someone who is a bit of a floozie. I’m not sure if that would make more sense as a definition here, but I could see the latter acting as a more believable verb.
“Caranito” brings on a piñata of fun and Spanish. The next two tracks act like the cheap tequila hangover, softening until the album grows silent.
The record is good as background noise, with a few tracks strong enough to stand alone. As a complete story, though, it doesn’t exactly deliver.