Never has an album title been more fitting. Howe Gelb and his merry Arizona-desert cohorts have been making category-defying music for almost 20 years, so why stop now? It’s All Over… the Map features the expected grab bag of Gelb profundities and non sequiturs, served up against a musical backdrop of electronic blips and beeps, bursts of electric guitar feedback, striding piano vamps, Parisian café ambience and alt.country noodling.
Victoria Williams, Vic Chesnutt and Neko Case drop by to add some harmony vocals (if the notion of “harmony” can be stretched to include dissonance). On “NYC of Time” Gelb reminds us that NYC is pronounced “nick,” while “Anarchistic Bolshevistic Cowboy Bundle” is a medley of perhaps the worst Sex Pistols cover ever recorded (“Anarchy in the UK” as a sort of late-night gothic country tune) and an update of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings which finds Gelb crooning, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Tolstoys.” Whew.
Amidst the unstructured mess and wildly juxtaposed genres there’s an inspired, cracked mind at work, and the truly frightening thing is that after several spins this CD actually starts to make sense. Unlike his small but intensely loyal fan base, I don’t view Howe Gelb as a crackpot musical genius. But “crackpot” seems to fit, and there’s enough genuinely weird, moving music here to make me want to come back for repeated listens.