Abruptness, circumlocution, sprawl, and Tucson weirdness all serve as grist to Howe Gelb’s mill; attuning to his creativity requires easing into contradiction, and rolling with indirection. 1991’s Ramp provides an excellent entry point.
Here Giant Sand comprise the future Calexico pairing of Burns and Convertino; Paula Jean Brown playing electric bass; and notable presences in Victoria Williams, Pappy Allen, and young Indiosa Patsy Gelb. There remained yet the Zen dobro-master Rainer Ptacek.
Ramp, leavening hard, grungy rockers with more intimate, quiet-corner, ensemble songs, and the odd lounge-jazz excursion, carries an unstinting coherence. ‘Warm Storm’ makes for a roaring in-your-face start, with Rainer’s incisive dobro in the bridge, and Paula’s chorus, before ‘Romance Of Falling’ finds guitars more brutal yet.
Williams’ voice and banjo dress ‘Wonder’ as Howe crams lines over-full and words tumble. Pappy’s take on ‘Welcome To My World’ proves simply lovely with more dobro and Neil Harry’s pedal steel. ‘Neon Filler’ highlights loose-limbed piano and young Patsy’s singing behind near-jaunty pop.
‘Seldom Matters’ offers more beauty, and Victoria, before the final wild guitars of ‘Always Horses Coming’ remind that Ramp was near-contemporary to Ragged Glory, and has surely aged as well.