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.
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.
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, www.thegourds.com.
“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
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
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
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.