Sno Angel Like You
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Jeremy Gara of Arcade Fire plays the drums on the record. Howe Gelb is joined on the record by the Canadian Gospel Choir - Voices of Praise. Howe Gelb's profile has been steadily increasing in the UK with his last album The Listener gaining reviews and features everywhere. In between time he has released a Giant Sand album and toured the UK in 2004. Thrill Jockey. 2006.
On 'Sno Angel Like You, peripatetically wry songsmith Howe Gelb delves into another rack of dustblown songs that tug at the heart and head equally. For the first 23 seconds you might feel like you've heard this album before, as he languidly free rambles this choice lyric: "Make sure your baby's well tucked in a blanket in the basket of a backseat of a wagon that don't run on air." That's when the new wrinkle enters: the Voice of Praise Gospel Choir. They give Gelb's acoustic guitar-fronted musings a magic carpet--a riff machine that does call-and-response beautifully and then just sets up background vocal waves that give the semi-sparse 'Sno Angel the barometric luster of Nick Cave's Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. --Andrew Bartlett
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Top Customer Reviews
Personally, his solo work before never moved me like Giant Sand in the early nineties. Yet the guy deserves to be listened to so I did, and I bought the abums too. More out of loyalty than confidence.
This album may just be the one that convinces me. To the usual Howe fare a chorus joins him, and they make the whole difference. Gelb voice never sounded so right-on like it does here enveloped in his own brand of gospel music.
Not quite "Core Of Enchantment," it may just offer enough heavens to convert you.
This is a deeply spiritual album despite not being at all religious. Spiritual and moral themes riddle the songs and it seems entirely appropriate that his minimal rock band is backed throughout by a gospel choir, the Voices of Praise. The resulting sound isn't at all what one might expect. In this instance when an alternative rock musician meets a gospel choir, the choir conforms to the needs of his sound more than he does to the limitations of a choir. As a result, this album doesn't really sound like anything else I've ever heard. It is more that the choir helps bring out the latent spiritual themes of Gelb's music than anything else, with a new musical hybrid ensuing. Gospel punk? Take "Worried Spirit" from near the end of the disc. The individual elements might sound incongruous--heavily distorted guitar, a strong beat provided by drums with heavy use of tom toms, some use of piano, Gelb's Lou Reed-like voice, gospel choir cutting in to sing: "Oh my worried spirits/Oh my troubled mind." But every element fits perfectly with all the others.
The old Mississippi Delta blues singers were very conscious of performing devil's music. There was no hope, no salvation, only damnation and despair. In this way, at least, 'SNO ANGEL LIKE YOU is a gospel album, since it is full of hope and affirmation of life. There is concern about having made the right moral choices, but no guilt over having failed. No song illustrates this better than "But I Did Not," where Gelb sings in each line about what he might have done and the others answer back "But I did not" while the choir sings gently in the background:
Would I be awakened where the wrong side renders? (But I did not.)
Would I be dangling towards demise? (But I did not.)
Forgetting about the innocent splendors? (But I did not.)
And rage blinding my eyes? (But I did not.)
But Gelb's attitude isn't moral exulting, but more the sense that he barely escaped. When he sings "Felt like burning down the home" and "Felt like me a gun" there is a sense not of moral superiority but of relief, as if he had barely dodged the bullet. This is all made clear in the final verse where he turns everything around:
People just smiling at the sun shining (But I did not.)
Seeing the dark clouds, silver lining (But I did not.)
He finally sings "Sacrifice sometimes is just timing," and ends with the realization that he just got lucky, apparently meeting someone (a woman?) who helped make a difference. It is a glorious song and one of the highpoints of the disc.
I can't recommend this disc highly enough and my fear is that this is one of those special little masterpieces that will get ignored by fans and under promoted by the record company. I've rarely seen such an unexpectedly marvelous collaboration as that between Gelb, his fellow musicians (including Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara), and Voices of Praise. I hope this doesn't end up being the most underrated disc of the year.