Get spun or be glum: This is not a record review, but a freakin’ imprimatur to one day retire to the desert. Wash your hair and comb your face.
BY FRED MILLS
In 1992 a coupla East Coasters – that would be me, and my beautiful wife, from North Carolina – took a chance on the Old Pueblo (that’s “Tucson” to my fellow non-natives). Among other things, the move would eventually spawn a young Mills in the early days of ’01 precisely because our desert sojourn had bestowed upon us the courage to simply follow our instincts, rather than our random, often misguided, impulses. Said young Mills is now a college student here in NC, although let the record show that he was also accepted to the University of Arizona and, for a spell, he seriously entertained the idea, at least until the nuances of the term “in-state tuition” became clearer. But I digress…
For my part, I attribute much of my courage to being privy to, often on a firsthand basis (such as the courage of @Allison Mills, duh), that of other residents and transplants, who no doubt had to learn how to navigate the arc of the bad crazy sun during the day while sidestepping random cholla cactus spines that, as best I could tell, were being shot out, with maximum perversity, of aliens’ teeshirt cannons from myriad directions. Well, I learned how to hike in Arizona eventually.
Among those transplants was Mr. Howe Gelb, whose band Giant Sand had already caught my attention prior to my arrival. “Desert rock,” yo. And then came 1994, and “Glum,” on the brutally short-lived (and, let’s face it, somewhat inept during those grungy alt-rock-in-ascendance days) Imago label. All respect to my old friends at Imago – y’all did the best with with what ya wuz dealt. And new respect to Howe’s current supporters at Britain’s Fire Records, with the new 2LP version of “Glum,” which features an extra live disc and all the CD edition’s bonus tracks on the digital download.
The album is as much a revelation in 2019 as it was on “repeat” back when I was manning the trade counter and store stereo at the Zia Records location in 1994. Sean Murphy (of the River Roses), Mike Bollman (record collector extraordinaire), Maggie Golston (also a musician, and a local poet of considerable note), and all the rest of us played it over and over, no doubt aggravating the younger crew that came in later in the day to relieve us of our duties (the store was open until midnight). I suspect we converted more than a few of them to the cause, however, because an album this magical, this so purely Tucson, only happens once in awhile. It was recorded in New Orleans for the most part, but with folks like Rainer Ptacek and Chris Cacavas clocking in alongside Howe, Joey, John, and Paula Jean (let’s not forget Patsy of Patsy’s Rats either) among the many guest players (there is a gentleman named Peter Holsapple among the credits, fellow current North Carolinians), it’s all Old Pueblo.
It’s sublime and serene, chaotic and profane, sexily discombobulated, and both unearthly and familar all at the same time. In short, it was then, and to this day it remains, the sound of Tucson circa ’94. I know, because I was there.
Which is, I suspect, the way Howe intended it. Goddam, this record sounds good. Listen to him croak ‘n’ croon. I just may wash my hair, comb my face, and then go find a random record store where I can stand behind the counter for a few minutes as I savor the memories prior to being ejected from the premises for “activities inscrutable.” So be it. R.I.P. Pappy Allen.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “Yer Ropes,” “Spun,” “Helvakowboysong,” “World Stands Still” (KCRW live), “Water Fuels the Fire” (bonus, w/download)