The prolific Howe Gelb (of Giant Sand) is out with his twenty-first solo album, The Coincidentalist. Stuck between the mountains and the sea, the sparse desert of Gelb’s Arizona home is reflected in his music. Gelb writes interesting songs with often surprising chord changes. His whispery baritone tells the story, but the sound of his upper register is much more inviting. Full of roots simplicity with a cowboy surfer lead line interspersed, The Coincidentalist is an enjoyable dichotomy of sounds.
Equally proficient on the piano and guitar, Howe Gelb is difficult to define. His lyrics speak plainly and honestly, adding the occasional poet’s perfect twist. Often, his music sounds pregnant and undeveloped, perhaps due to his famous collaborative nature. The songs are simply tailored, lacking the typical studio polish, even for roots music. This creates at some points a beautiful simplicity, but at other times the production suffers for lack of development. “Vortexas” and, “Picacho Peak” show off Gelb’s songwriting creativity, with unique changes where the music captures the mood.
“Left of Center” and, “Unforgiveable” are more upbeat with poppy musical themes, but with the unique Gelb swagger. Gelb is at his most poignant in “Running Behind” and the title track-– simple, easy tracks that define a mood. Like much of his music, Gelb’s last tune, “Instigated Chimes,” could be ripped from the Great American Songbook. The chord structure, feel and melody belong at the Cotton Club of yesteryear. Gelb is nothing if not eclectic.
In the end, The Coincidentalist, like all things, is about choices. Gelb has made some beautifully rewarding choices in song structure, production setting, instrumentation and overall lyrical songwriting. When the album falls short, it is because Gelb’s voice remains in the monotonous whisper, which he often chooses for too long, and in a few spots where the production is too sparse. Otherwise, the album is informative, enlightening and tragically educating. Take a listen.