'Sno Angel Like You

Studio Album by released in 2006
'Sno Angel Like You's tracklist:
Get to Leave
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Paradise Here Abouts
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But I Did Not
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Hey Man
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The Farm
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That's How Things Get Done
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Love Knows (No Borders)
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The Voice Within
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Nail in the Sky
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Howlin' a Gale
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Robes of Bible Black
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Worried Spirits
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Neon Filler
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Chore of Enchantment
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'Sno Angel Like You review

Howe Gelb has little to prove but plenty to offer

Howe Gelb has a work ethic that would shame even Mark E. Smith. His discography is as complex and wide ranging as an FBI file on Tony Soprano. His work with Giant Sand stretches back as far as 1985 but that's just scratching the surface. His many side projects have included the full on country of The Band of Blacky Ranchette, his collaboration with Lisa Germano, OP8 and the loose collective of Arizona Amp and Alternator. Somehow amongst all of this he has also managed to release a series of solo LPs. Howe Gelb has already nailed a reputation as a guru of alt-country, but now the Giant Sand frontman's low attention span has led him to make a gospel album 'Sno Angel Like You, in Ottawa, Canada. It's an odd concept, but he has taken the narrative style of Lou Reed's classic New York album and hurled in Canada's Voice of Praise Gospel Choir to tackle secular songs about the afterlife, monogamy and farming. The soulful harmonies complement Gelb's dry one-liners and restless guitar surprisingly well. Gelb's songs are malleable enough to fit into both the alt-country and gospel genre without revealing the join and the material here doesn't sound glued together but fluid and natural. After a quarter-century in music, Gelb has little to prove but plenty to offer, and the minimalist arrangements on ’Sno Angel Like You feature his thick, deep voice as he jaunts across an array of grinning, growling lyrical contraptions.

Voices of Praise aren’t the only collaborators on ‘Sno Angel Like You

Gelb composed seven new songs adhering to the choir director’s only stipulation (“Keep it positive”) and roped in three old Giant Sand songs by his friend, the late Tucson guitarist Rainer Ptacek. The first track, Get to Leave features only slight accompaniment from the choir, and at the end, they laugh and clap in appreciation. The juxtaposition of Gelb’s two-chord, bluesy rhythms and the choir’s soaring, sonorous exaltations is striking. But I Did Not gives another indication of how perfect a marriage this is; the mucky rock that is Gelb’s modus operandi is given a glorious, otherworldly lift by the gospel harmonies, while the disconcerting rock’n’roll sway of The Farm is raised to the heavens by the Voices of Praise. Later, Love Knows (No Borders) offers hushed loveliness before exploding in burst of reverb, and Nail In The Sky begins with some spare acoustic picking before building to an astounding crescendo. While they almost steal the show, Voices of Praise aren’t the only collaborators on ‘Sno Angel Like You. Jeremy Gara of Arcade Fire is drafted in to play drums and adds a regimented, almost military stomp to Worried Spirits and Paradise Here Abouts. But it is Howlin’ A Gale – the album’s rowdiest point – where Gara’s primal pounding, the luscious vocals of Voices of Praise and the bone-shattering squawk of Gelb’s electric guitar and raspy voice most perfectly combine.

'Sno Angel Like You is an immensely pleasing and happy album

By “keeping it positive,” Gelb has constructed an immensely pleasing and happy album. He sounds at ease, and the joy he gets performing with Voices of Praise comes across on record. The ground covered here by Gelb is not entirely new. You can here the influence of fellow country soul travelers Lambchop in the half spoken vocals of Nail In The Sky. The secular nature of the lyrics also echoes Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins' recent Rabbit Fur Coat. This should not distract from what is a wonderful record. What we've got here is a smart, likable songwriter who's been at it for a good long while now making a pretty fun, unpredictable-feeling LP with little frills and soul enough. 'Sno Angel Like You is an exceptional effort from a charmingly earnest, yet still somewhat self-conscious, lyricist and singer. The coalescence of rock and gospel has been attempted before, but never with this passion or this artifice. Once the final bar of album closer, Chore Of Enchantment, has played, it’s clear, once again, that Gelb is not just able to master any genre he attempts, but is more than capable of inventing several of his own along the way.