Psychedelic-South American-Desert rock, and just about a hundred other things, from two members of Howe Gelb’s country rock behemoth Giant Sand. Over their three decades Giant Sand have spawned innumerable other bands, most successfully John Convertino and Joey Burns’ Calexico, but best of all Gelb’s own one album project OP8. This time it’s guitarists Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan striking out on their own, taking their Peruvian Cumbia combo Chicha Dust into rock and roll territory. As you’d expect from two musicians schooled in the worldly ways of Howe Gelb (plus, in Sullivan’s case, by the wily, weird, staggeringly underrated Billy Sedlmayr), it’s the instrumentalism that sticks, that probes and pulsates, making XIXA more than just another side-project.
The story this album tells (and the story has to be a western, not just for the sun-scorched, borderland palate of the music, but for its toughness, its air of danger, and for the deadpan voices surfacing throughout) is in snatches of the music. It’s in the slide of the guitar line recurring throughout World Goes Away, giving the song the same slumping, dragging advance as the bassline in Bob Dylan’s Tin Angel, the twisting, barbed hook constantly reappearing in the instrumental passages of Down From The Sky, the nauseating waltz rising out of the nowhere for the final two minutes of the brutal Pressures Of Mankind, the mournful refrain that begins Living On The Line.
The playing is so much more than mere technical prowess. There’s a versatility, but more than that a desire to explore and stretch rhythms, tempos and dynamics that gives the music its life. For a rhythm section, you can’t go wrong with drummer Winston Watson – in the 1990’s one of the musicians in Bob Dylan’s touring band who re-energized him beyond all recognition when it seemed he’d run out of steam. With multi-percussionist Efren Cruz Chavez providing the flourishes, Watson has room to be as flamboyant, aggressive and expansive as he could want. Lopez and Sullivan move between Latin textures, desert rock and riffs bordering on metal.
Throughout, the chorus of voices, appearing one after another, provides the most vivid cast. A distant falsetto at one moment, a barrelhouse Tom Waits growl the next, the pleading Spanish tone of Nena Linda, most shockingly, in World Goes Away a seemingly ancient, crumbling voice (actually young Algerian singer Sadam Iyad Imarhan of the bands Imarhan and Tinariwen) singing a contemplative verse.
This is music with an edge: tough and palpably volatile. There’s no telling where a strung-out Geoffrey Hidalgo bass line or a Chavez timbale shot will tip any given song, what venom will spill out next. Terse in approach, but richly contoured musically and with a scale that feels cinematic – Bloodline goes after an atmosphere and realizes it vividly.
Bloodline is Out Now via Glitterhouse
Order via Amazon