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Giant Sand - Recounting The Ballads of Thin Line Men

  by Adrian P

published: 11 / 11 / 2019

Giant Sand - Recounting The Ballads of Thin Line Men
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


For his second re-recording of an early-Giant Sand album, Howe Gelb leads the way through a skewed refashioning of 1986’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Line Man’

Howe Gelb has certainly not been averse to revisiting his own songs multiple times in the studio, over numerous albums in his extensive career to date, with Giant Sand, Giant Giant Sand, The Band of Blacky Ranchette, Arizona Amp & Alternator or under his own name. He’s upping his contrarian ante even further recently by reworking Giant Sand albums in their entirety. Having completely rebuilt 1985’s near-seminal debut ‘Valley of Rain’ last year as ‘Returns to Valley of Rain’, by upturning the original’s Paisley Underground-meets-early-R.E.M. aesthetics in favour of a propulsive sludgier sound more akin to early-90's Dinosaur Jr, here now Gelb retackles 1986’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Line Man’ with returning-again veteran drummer Tommy Larkins, latter-day bassist Thøger Lund and guests in tow. A looser proposition than its tightly-coiled predecessor, the newly recut second Giant Sand LP has greater scope for Gelb to stretch into the more eclectic and elastic territories that he’s explored during the last few decades. This isn’t to say that he’s necessarily improved on the vintage version of ‘Ballad of a Thin Line Man’ but it’s far more likeable than the largely noise-first ‘Returns to Valley of Rain’. Rejigging the tracklisting - through some resequencing and by adding in one-time outtake ‘Reptillian’ and the previously-unheard ‘Tantamount’ as well as jettisoning a cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and the upside-down-jazz of ‘Last Legs’ - provides some headline changes yet there is extensive remoulding throughout proceedings. Hence, the desert-rockers are far more heavily stomping, imagining if Neil Young & Crazy Horse had made ‘Zuma’ with the same amp-wrecking weight as ‘Ragged Glory’ in the process. This provides us with more forceful and hirsute retakes upon the likes of ‘A Hard Man to Get to Know’, ‘Desperate Man’, ‘Body Of Water’ and ‘Thin Line Man’. Contrastingly, the quirkier and less volume-boosted numbers are more interesting and effective. Thus, the newly-added ‘Tantamount’ brings in a welcome rustic rockabilly strut, ‘Who Am I’ goes deeper into husky philosophical minimalism and the campfire-warmed ‘Graveyard’ now sounds earthier from being fed through Gelb’s elder statesman tones. The latter track is also balmily bolstered by backing vocals from another reappearing ex-Giant Sand member, Paula Jean Brown, who additionally repeats her rare lead-singing moment with the self-penned ‘The Chill Outside’, which is recast from being a winsome folk-rock shimmy into a crunchy reverb-coated country-rock affair. In lesser hands this re-recording venture could be considered the height of self-indulgence but Gelb’s charm and desire to reconnect with old collaborators sees him through for the most part. Intriguingly, the inner-sleeve features a chronologically out of sync picture of Gelb with John Convertino and Joey Burns (long-established as Calexico’s co-leaders but still well-known for their roles in Giant Sand’s strongest line-ups). Could this be a cryptic olive-branch invite for them to reconfigure the likes of 1991’s ‘Ramp’ or 1994’s ‘Glum’ albums with him? Anything is still possible with Howe Gelb at this stage in his convention-circumventing career…

Track Listing:-
1 Reptillian
2 A Hard Man To Get To Know
3 Desperate Man
4 You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
5 Tantamount
6 Who Am I
7 Body Of Water
8 Graveyard
9 The Chill Outside
10 Thin Line Man

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Interview (2004)
Giant Sand - Interview
Back with their first album in four years, Giant Sand have returned with an almost entirely new line-up. Frontman Howe Gelb talks about the departure of his regular band mates John Convertino and Joey Burns, and the new album‘, Is All Over...The Map’
Interview (2004)

favourite album

Ramp (2020)
Giant Sand - Ramp
Adrian P examines Giant Sand’s much-cherished 1991 studio album once more, which Fire Records have rebooted once more with a renewed double-disc edition.
Returns to Valley of Rain (2018)



Blurry Blue Mountain (2010)
Initriguingly laidback and sparse latest album from Giant Sand, the main focus of Howe Gelb who often credited as being the founder of alt. country is now in the twenty fifth year of his recording career

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