Renaming the band Giant Giant Sand to incorporate the swelling of ranks, Tucson is a sprawling album, steeped in old time country workouts with mariachi flourishes and – usually – Gelb’s timeworn, husky drawl. This works best on the likes of the half-spoken Slag Heap, a languid shuffle which initially threatens to collapse beneath its casual approach before picking up brass and shards to guide it on its way. Similarly, Caranito is a playful jaunt through Mexican country pop while We Don’t Play Tonight is gentle shimmy replete with percussive stabs and charming male-female harmonies.
However, this lounge lizard approach to what ostensibly is a concept album about ‘a semi grizzled man with overt boyish naiveté’ occasionally lapses into needless indulgence and often becomes tangled in a mire of loose ends. The band are most suited to Gelb on vocals and when he demarcates duties – ‘The Sun Belongs To You’ – the songs suffer as a result. Giant Giant Sand are capable of much more – Gelb is a fine songwriter, storyteller and collaborator but at times, ‘Tucson’ feels life an afterthought, lacking in the kinetic intensity and corrosive experimentalism of earlier releases.