Does the desert turn people into eccentric loners, or do eccentric loners just flock to the desert? Probably a bit of both, which would explain Giant Sand. For the past 20 years, Howe Gelb and a rotating stable of friends have been making unpredictable, atmospheric, psychedelic country music on the outskirts of Tucson, yet Giant Sand remains a shadowy entity untouched by trends and uncorrupted by even a modicum of fame. In recent years, frequent bandmates Joey Burns and John Convertino have stolen some of Gelb's thunder as Calexico, their roving band-for-hire, while Gelb's solo album Hisser went unheard enough that he was released from his big-label contract. No matter: Obscurity is his lot, and he likely knows it. Prominent placement with a more sympathetic label will ensure that many will hear Giant Sand's first album of new material since 1994's Glum, and it's a subtle stunner. Chore Of Enchantment—recorded with big-label money in Memphis, New York, and Tucson by such notables as Jim Dickinson, Kevin Salem, and John Parish, respectively—finds the band reunited as a trio, with Gelb joined by Convertino and Burns and the lineup fleshed out by several guests. As usual, the disc is the product of a land populated by bleached cow bones, saguaros, and peyote, a spare and spooky platform for Gelb's flights of poetic fancy. The music is so evocative that the songs can best be described by what they recall rather than how they sound: moonlit highways, flickering campfires, stars peeking out from behind mountainous silhouettes, and generator-powered home studios packed with antique and obscure instruments. For the less abstract-minded, "Neil Young jamming with The Flatlanders in Death Valley" will probably do fine.
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