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Giant Sand

Heartbreak Pass – 2015 (New West)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Giant Sand

It's a pretty common refrain from performers to sniff that they're recording music for themselves. Understandable, and like Rick Nelson once sang, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.

Count Howe Gelb of the band Giant Sand as someone who's pleasing himself with his music - which, yeah, sometimes borders on self-indulgence. But despite the unevenness, which could in part be attributed to recording in Crete, Italy, Nashville and Portland, Ore., Gelb leaves room to please listeners too.

Gelb in the liner notes thankfully offers a bit of an explanation: The album is roughly broken into three volumes - loud and lucky abandon; heady steady and direct (Gelb's vision of Americana); and the heart in constant turmoil and something about a transponder. Gelb plainly admits: "I can't recommend it, nor do I regret it. It's been one life split into two."

Well, then. So what about the music? Yep, uneven, occasionally confusing lyrics, musically often simplistic yet loud, and Gelb's Shawn Mullin-like vocals pulling it all together. You have to slog through the noisy, silly "Texting Feist" and "Transponder" to hit a stretch of five or so classy Americana tunes that are thoughtful, witty and extremely heartfelt and most importantly, easily accessible.

"Done" is slyly '60s lounge-y, complete with soft keyboard runs, backing chorus, and sly vocals. "Every Now and Then" (backed by a horn, organ and Maggie Bjorklund's pedal steel) is a Spanish-tinged delight. "Home Sweat Home" is a smart, simple tale of the frenetic life of missing the home life while being on the road, and "Eye Opening" and "Forever and Always" could challenge Prine at his mellowest, emotional best while "House in Order" gives Rodney Crowell or Robert Earl Keen a run for their songwriting money.

Perhaps Gelb is giving himself too much credit for making music to please no one but himself. Amidst the self-admitted quirkiness is a singer-songwriter-musician who knows how to ease his way into listeners' soft spots.