Cult Icon: Howe Gelb & Giant Sand

One of the year's most intriguing intersections of mainstream music and the alt/indie fringes comes in the form of KT Tunstall's Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon. A marked departure for the Scottish singer-songwriter, the album is an Americana-flavored meditation on the death of her father, as well as her 2012 separation from former husband Luke Bullen (also her former drummer). In order to boldly break from the sound she had developed over the course of her four previous full-lengths, Tunstall opted to record in Tucson, Ariz., with Howe Gelb. The creative anchor of veteran outfit Giant Sand, Gelb and his pioneering work in atmospheric roots music and experimental country-rock casts a tall shadow over Tunstall's warm, analog-rich tunes.

Though Gelb has released dozens of albums since Giant Sand's emergence in the mid-'80s, he has remained a cult figure: an eccentric genius-type, one with an intensely loyal following, who through the decades has quietly influenced artists far more famous than he. Indeed, Gelb's impact on the alt country movement is every bit as profound as that of Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks and The Bottle Rockets. But where those groups reflect their Midwest/Prairie State roots, Giant Sand's music has always held a mirror to the sweeping and arid desert landscape surrounding his hometown of Tucson.

In addition to a wide selection of songs from Giant Sand's sprawling discography, our playlist touches on both Gelb's solo output and many side projects (including OP8, The Band of Blacky Ranchette, and Arizona Amp and Alternator). You will also find a couple of selections from Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez, both of whom were founded by musicians who have passed through Giant Sand's ever-rotating lineup.

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