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Center of the Universe

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Album Review

The whole thing kicks off with one of Giant Sand's heaviest tunes ever — "Seeded ('Twixt Bone and Bark)," a massive head-nodder of a metal psych track, with some of Gelb's best soloing work leading the way. With that as one promising beginning, the band, now more or less officially Gelb, Convertino, and bassist Joe Burns, assays another fascinating set of desert-fried rock & roll, serving up one winner after another on this excellent album. Gelb's knack for roping in talented guests again pays off — Victoria Williams takes a bow, while Chris Cacavas on keyboards (kudos for his work on "Off Ramp Man") and the Psycho Sisters (of all people, Susan Cowsill and ex-Bangles member Vicki Peterson) crop up throughout. As before, though, it's the core group's show, and they once again do the business. Gelb's singing and performing style remains relatively unchanged, but the focus of the songs generally is on a more specifically rock style, though certainly tinged by the country focus he's always had, most obviously on "Unwed and Well Sped." Still, it's not the twang and jangle on "Pathfinder" or "Live to Tell" which takes center stage, it's the sprawling, howling feedback, again shaped by Gelb into just the way he wants it: warm rather than overpowering and suddenly stopping and starting when the need calls for it. Convertino and Burns, now two albums along into their own partnership that would eventually lead to Calexico, make for a great performing unit, able to serve up both straight-up rhythms and weird and wiggy bits in equal aplomb. More heavy-duty zoneouts crop up thanks to the title track (with a hilarious introduction from Williams), the aggressive blast of "Sonic Drive In" (complete with goony high vocals), and the jaunty-but-loud joy "Thing Like That." Meanwhile, odd little fun can be had with the piano-only snippet "Thurst," the sweetly strange "Milkshake Girl," and the unlisted bonus track "Goin' Down to Mexico."


Formed: 1982 in Tuscon, AZ

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Giant Sand was the primary outlet for the stylistic curveballs and sun-damaged songcraft of Howe Gelb, a Pennsylvania-born singer/guitarist who formed the four-piece Giant Sandworms after relocating to Tuscon, Arizona in the mid-'70s. After releasing the EP Will Wallow and Roam After the Ruin in 1980, Gelb fired everyone but bassist Scott Gerber (although founding guitarist Rainer Ptacek returned to the fold many times in the future) and started over as simply Giant Sand, essentially a one-man band...
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