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DISC DISCUSSION: THE GOURDS — HAYMAKER!

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Medleyville.us staffers Chris M. Junior, George Henn and Mike Madden attempt to wrap their heads around the latest studio album by this rootsy yet unconventional quintet from Austin, Texas.

Chris M. Junior: Although hard to classify with mainstream music references, The Gourds are easy to like. The touch of NRBQ-style humor and solid Band-like foundation have served these guys well through the years. This time around, there’s more of a country flavor, both in terms of content (“Country Love,” “Country Gal”) and style (“Valentine”).

George Henn: Why stop there with the classic rock touchstones? At times, I hear a Rolling Stones-like boogie, gruff vocals and phrasing a la Bruce Springsteen, even traces of Los Lobos‘ laid-back, Tex-Mex flavor. I’m not knocking their influences; clearly these guys are credible players with even better taste. But with all the varied sounds and styles smeared all over Haymaker! it is hard to tell just who The Gourds themselves really are.

Mike Madden:That melding of influences and sounds is a great trait that this band exploits to the hilt. On “All the Way to Jericho,” the barrage of instruments gives that song a solid live feel, and that seems to be the intent on the whole album. Haymaker! sounds like musicians bouncing ideas around the studio and sticking to the first takes if they have the right spirit.

Junior: Sure, there’s a melting-pot element going on, but I don’t think The Gourds, collectively or individually, lack distinct characteristics. Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell can be expected to write the more straightforward narratives, while Jimmy Smith is good for a few head-scratchers (gotta love the random Roky Erickson reference in “Hey Thurman.”) And the humor can come from anyone at any time: Russell’s “Shreveport” is loaded with funny images, and arguably the best is the reference to the song’s trucker protagonist jamming along with Rush‘s “Limelight.”

Henn: Funny that you should mention head-scratchers because while I really like the sound and the vibe of this album, a handful of these tunes are full of non-sequiturs and lyrics that are at best incoherent and at worst nonsensical. “Fossil Contender,” for example, appears to be loosely based on the idea of digging up human remains, and it features confounding couplets like “Way after their time underground/Back of my head smells like a kick drum.” But before the listener can spend much time pondering such obsurdity, the next track might be a gem along the lines of “Tex-Mex Mile,” full of honky-tonk swing, or the down-home groove of “Country Gal.” Granted, this disc is my first real exposure to The Gourds — aside from their superb, genre-bending take on Snoop Dogg‘s “Gin and Juice” from several years ago — but lyrically and sonically, they seem like a handful of bands rolled into one, for better or for worse.

Madden: Honestly, the unpredictability of this album, not only lyrically but also in terms of sounds and tempos, is what may make it all the more appealing to me. Let’s face it: If all the songs had similar intros and all the lyrics were about beer, broads and boats, it would sound like everything else in mainstream country music. The most interesting music doesn’t always have to be the catchiest stuff. Sometimes it’s the “huh?” moments that make the lasting impressions.