Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Trouble with Howe

The trouble with Howe?
Too many hats.
Too much talent with too many places to go. 
Too many choices.
Too many possibilities.
Too many destinations.
Too many sunsets to head off into.
The trouble is, if you never reach the destination how do you rate the journey?
Howe once told me that 'rehearsal is the enemy'. 
He probably shares a similar disdain for maps.
I see him standing, smirking, with a compass in one hand, a magnet in the other. Where most folks' talent limits them to a particular tack, I reckon that Gelb's wayward genius allows for any journey, preferably 'off piste', often without any sense of destination; his vagrant heart surely trusts in 'hazard' as habit.

“I was always good at making up songs. I can make up songs out of nothing, right now, if I wanted to, and just believe they've been here forever and then boom! There they are. The thing is to best represent the product by ‘reassimilating’ it in front of everyone. But it seemed like, instead, there were all these other possibilities and variables and things that happen. Like what if we played it this way tonight instead? Or, you know, when you get something recorded you get the frozen snapshot of a recording, but really that's only how it happened that one day. So when you're out there live, you go, ‘Okay, here's your compass.’ You can kind of see where you're coming from, but [you’re] not going to stay here. … so you allow [the song] to move again, to evolve and let it evolve in front of everybody because you can't explain music, you can't.”



You'll never put a post code on Howe's muse; he's all over the place; assembling and disassembling, wantonly, wilfully lost then found; impossible to pigeon-hole. I'm guessing that he's sick of his label as ‘Godfather of Alt-country’.
Seemingly so.
Howe Gelb celebrates his promised 'retirement' at 60 from his beloved Giant Sand by releasing a solo album. 'Future Standards' sees him reinvented as louche lounge lizard, swooning and crooning his idiosyncratic way though a set informed by The American Songbook.

“This is my attempt at writing a batch of tunes that could last through the ages with the relative structure of what has become known as ‘standards'. The likes of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael done up by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday.”


Where Dylan reached back deferentially with 'Shadows in the Night', Howe leads archly with his chin, leaning forward into the Arizona sunlight with a knowing wink at the shadowy past. Howe rewrites the rules. Always. Tongue ever firmly in cheek, his self knowing disdain for form can be frustrating. He often sets up a beautiful melody only to leave it hijacked and hanging in the breeze. Here he seems to be curbing that mischievous habit, reigning himself for a more structured set. I've always admired that Howe wrote wilfully; to please himself. Perhaps he's satisfied that desire and is now keen to reach out by journeying back, with the Joanna as his vehicle of choice. 
Howe remembers his first experience with a piano: 

“There's something wrong with this eye [his left] from birth, so I couldn't read music right. My whole way of thinking was fucked up from the way I look at things. Literally. I could never get the black note in ‘Polly Wolly Doodle. And it just didn't sound like what I wanted. How do I get that radio sound? How do I sound like Abbey Road? Like ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’?”

He may be informed by The Beatles but here I hear his keening croak backed by Victor Borge, Chico Marx or even Les Dawson. You're always on the edge of your seat when Gelb's at the stool. Will he/won't he go where you expect him to? Sure, his hands are firmly on the wheel - 'The clouds are back at my command' - but where's he bound?
It's always been a bewildering yet bedazzling journey.
The trouble with Howe?
This man of many hats.
More shy than sly, this jongleur, in his element when lost in motion... has come home.
A Canute in the desert.
A Prospero with no spirits to command.
A wandering soul has found his 'loving heart' but what's now the object of this vagabond's affection? 
Home?
Perhaps his song is for Tucson itself.
Who is Howe now crooning to? 
You know that you'll never get a straight answer from this marvellous, mischievous maverick. 
"Maybe the lonely; maybe them only..."
We're never gonna to get to know.


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