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Howe | Confluence (Loose/Ow Om)
Never one to relax, this is Howe's third release in four months; ostensibly a solo album though aided and abetted by Giant Sand's Joey Burns and John Convertino and sundry other cohorts including John Parish, Grandaddy and Nick Luca. The sound is indeed of a confluence of players, all spinning around Howe's mighty gravitational force. Opener 3 Sisters, culled from something like 23 different sessions, is almost a metaphor for the whole enterprise; loose, jazzy and sounding like four songs shoehorned into one. The late night ballad, St. Conformity, is up next. Over a deeper than deep bass line Howe sings what could be a Bukowski short story; intimate, mysterious and threatening at the same time. Pontiac Slipstream untilises a brilliant stream of hypotheticals over a funky drum riff to create an alternate but compelling reading of American history ("If a feller named Monroe never fathered Bluegrass / He would still be unrecognized as the grand wizard of Speed Metal....If Kennedy never got shot / Then Monterey would never have Hendrix.") Blue Marble Girl, long a live favourite, is a dreamy, languid melancholy masterpiece that nails Confluence as an album of classic ballads, punctuated by off-kilter instrumentals and funky footstompers like Cold with its irresistible groove pounded out by a thrillingly percussive piano lead. Overall, there's far more variance of texture than there was on last year's Chore Of Enchantment resulting in a much stronger album. There's a 4 A.M. version of Can't Help Falling In Love With You that sounds like early Tom Waits until Grandaddy come in with a subtly mellifluous coda. Shadow of Where A River Was is a great Paris, Texas type instrumental that's followed by two versions of Vex, one sung by two French fans in the back of the Calexico tour bus while the other's a chilling piece of country blues. Howe's superb guitar playing is all over this album, it's something that's been obscured on the last few releases but it comes into full force at the end of Hard On Things with a solo so economical, clear and biting that it reminds you of Dylan's quote about Robbie Robertson being the first mathematical guitar genius. This track and the post-Cortez sledgehammer fuzz and bend of Slide Away make the case for Howe being the second. This record should come with a free muzzle - you won't be able to stop telling people how good it is.

Stav Sherez
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001