Born in Scranton, Howe Gelb’s history with music is lengthy, to say the least. Previously of Giant Sand, he has created multiple lifetimes worth of music over nearly 3 decades. His ability to work with what he has got and not dwell on the parts he doesn’t, makes his musical evolution even more intriguing. Together with his side projects and solo albums, Gelb has always ensured that his work is collaborative. His collaborative style is relaxed and respectful with each party weaving their creation together and the collaborative tracks on his new album Gathered are no exception.
“Presumptuous” features Kira Skov and combines Skov’s lilting voice with Gelb’s to create a new lovers lament, recognizing the damage done by past loves before loving someone else. The lamenting piano is a perfect combination of optimism and upset. Skov’s voice is pained, slow and drowsy while Gelb’s voice is gravelly but sensitive. Both together, their voices are weary and tired, a bit like falling in love all over again.
The album is an album about love and “All You Need to Know” is literally the poetic encyclopedia of love. It tells of its ups and downs, the optimism and depression, the longing and loss. The tempo of the track itself is akin to the type of song sung by your heartbroken drunk Aunt at a party but Gelb’s voice, in contrast, is lively and hopeful. His voice tends to veer off and has the feeling of being completely honest and not rehearsed, like an informed stream of consciousness.
Singer-songwriters tend to dwell on love lost instead of love gained. The antithesis of this is the title track “Gathered” which is an ode to love and marriage as a journey and not an act. The idea of the journey is key in most of Gleb’s work and like the journey of his own musical evolution, the track is based not only on the positives of love but on all the negatives love helps override.
If “Gathered” signifies the end goal for most relationships, the “My Little World” is the wondrous imaging of love before it has happened. It is a short story that is an example of individual imagination and idyllic perfection. The second this track starts, it is like being transported to a dark underground cafe. A spoken word musical dream. The skipping bass drags you in and creates a liveliness, a brilliant companion for Gelb’s lazy voice. The intermittent jazz guitar creates a humming warmth under the track. As well as creating a story and vision of the outside world, the music itself is a mode of transport fulfilling all the senses, albeit in your head. This jazz track is for lazy Sunday mornings and coffee.
This 15 track album is relatively short but its complexity and varied array of musical styles makes Gathered a difficult album to surmise. It is poetic and conversational and all within its 49 minute run time. It is a masterpiece of an album, an amalgamation of Gelb’s musical history and insight to create a masterful piece of art that is a mix of alt-country and deep guttural jazz.