Austin's Gourds to rattle Durango

Call the Gourds what you will – bluegrass, country, roots, Cajun, gospel, blues, Tex-Mex, Southern rock or back-porch moonshine-swilling hillbilly jug band. The fact is, all categorizations are correct at one time or another – and sometimes several all at once.

If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, one need only pick up a Gourds CD or take in a show to understand the band’s flair for melding it all into one heaping helping of homegrown Americana. Think of it as comfort food for the ears, but with a kick.

The Gourds, from left,  Claude Bernard, Jimmy Smith, Keith Langford, Kevin Russel, and Max ohnston play Wed., Sept. 11 at Storyville.“(A Gourds show) is a good, uplifting, energetic experience for most people, at least that’s what I’ve been told,” said guitarist Kevin Russell, who, along with bassist Jimmy Smith founded the band back in the mid-’90s. “People often tell me, ‘Aw man, this week sucked. I got all these problems and … I came to the show and, man, I just forgot it all and I feel so much better.’ And they say thank us for the musical therapy.”

Paying testament to the Gourds’ capabilities to turn out innovative, inspiring music is the fact that, after several years, they have made it to the fore of the Austin, Texas, music scene. They were even named best live act by the Austin American-Statesman, no small feat in a city that has spawned the likes of Robert Earl Keene, Joe Ely and the late, great Doug Sahm.

However, the band’s reputation and success extends far beyond the Texas capitol’s city limits. Taking a back-door approach to promotion similar to the Grateful Dead and Phish, the Gourds encourage fans to record the band’s shows and circulate them freely. Fans can even download MP3 files from the band’s official site,

“I think it is, all in all, a good thing to have as many people hear our music as possible,” Russell told the Wall Street Journal last fall.

And the Gourds have just the varied repertoire necessary to pull off such a free-wheeling system. Armed with Russell’s throaty, backwoods snarl and Smith’s more melodic, straightforward harmonies, the band is further bolstered by the semi-recent arrival of ex-Uncle Tupelo/Wilco banjo-mandolin-fiddle maestro, Max Johnston.

“Until Max joined the band, none of us were particularly instrumentally adept,” joked Russell. “We needed someone to add a little instrumental spice.”

And spice it up, he has.

Since coming aboard in late 1999, Johnston has shared songwriting duties, cranking out the gospel-infused “Jesus Christ (With Signs Following),” arguably the most infectious song on the band’s 2000 release, “Bolsa de Agua.”

Of course, the title of this song brings up one minor Gourds curiosity: many of the band’s lyrics seem to make little or no sense.

Take, for example, this refrain from “Foggy Blossom (Mechanical Bride),” a track on their soon-to-be released “Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig”:

Said the apple to the snake
Yer erotic forks are a fake
Said the goose to the jailer
Yer religious awe’s a failure
Said the spider to the candle
Yer bride is mechanical.

What does it all mean? Got me. The only explanation I can come up with is that the Gourds bill themselves as “music for the unwashed and well read,” and perhaps this reviewer needs to dust off some of the classics.

Regardless, the ambiguity of some of the lyrics does not detract from the Gourds experience, and, if anything, only makes it that much more meaningful. Perhaps this is because, in the end, it all boils down to the raw power of instrumentalization. And, when it’s good enough, as is the case with the Gourds, the music speaks louder than words anyway.







News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index