This Friday night we will be going to a musical BBQ of sorts for which we have been asked to choose two songs to listen to along the theme of “Going back to the country”. Now this is a good theme as it is inarguable that a large proportion of the music we listen to has its roots in some kind of americana and one way or other that stems from an understanding or history that comes from country (in the sense of country & western). But why did this happen and where did it start? Well one of the first bands that did it for me was Giant Sand. They started in the early ’80’s and a quick look on iTunes shows I have at least 10 CDs and although I have not counted at least that many records. All the old records have recently been re-released on CD with added bits to celebrate their 25 years with us and to date I have been very good in not hoovering them all up. Over those 25 years they have basically been one man, Howe Gelb, and the various friends and acquaintances he has sat down with to make a record. These have included M Ward, Calexico, Victoria Williams, Neko Case and numerous others.They started off as Giant Sandworm and the earlier records are noisier and more of a racket than the more recent ones. There are some who could listen to them and say that it all sounds the same and to an extent they do but that is part of the point. They are basically Howe’s slightly sad lugubrious voice laid over some guitars and piano. Sometimes it is just a guitar or a piano and other times they are both together with drums or maybe some horns woven in a well. But over a record, a CD and 25 years that voice and the music builds up to a great picture, it is burnt midnight music out of the American south west that bears some listening. I saw them in concert a couple of times in Oxford in the venue down the bottom of the road from East Avenue. Both times they played Mountain of Love. The second time I saw them we drank Guinness and whiskey in the Bullingdon Arms before we went to the gig. We stood at the front of the stage and half way through the evening Howe ushered on stage an old country singer whose name I cannot remember – he was dressed in black with a great silver buckle on his belt and wearing a cowboy hat. We were slightly surprised but he fitted the evening well. They played Mountain of Love as an encore when I shouted it out. It was the only name of one of their songs I could remember and Howe gave me his bottle of Newcastle Brown to finish off. The next day I saw him sat on one of the wooden benches on Magdelen Bridge and to my eternal regret I did not stop to say hello. They have a new CD out now and I have suggested that we should be listening to a song from it on Friday.
Before then I am going to find me a recipe for some appropriate food and buy a few bottles of Mexican beer.