Texas songwriting vets mature in their storytelling
The Gourds are notorious for their haphazard lyrical subjects (ranging from Shakespeare to flatulence), and Haymaker! is no exception. Songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith jumble together a wide range of stories
—whores working the "Tex-Mex Mile," a "fossil contender"
digging up ancient skulls and a moonlit drive to Jericho
in a "rusted automobile”
—like a group of tattered, brightly-painted marionettes dancing to the hoe-down tune of accordions, harmonicas, strings and drums.
On previous albums, especially 2006's Heavy Ornamentals, the band has woven tongue-in-cheek contempt for its subjects into many of its stories, from a slew of inconsiderate cohabitators ("New Roommate"),
to college kids with special knowledge ("The Education
Song"). But on Haymaker!, Russell and Smith pursue their
character sketches with considerably more empathy than previous years. In the second track, the narrator asks the "fossil contender,"
"Well how would you feel / If I dug up your head?" In "Bridget," a sparkling dialogue occurs between a young political zealot and a cynical old man on a road trip, which teases out each character's humorous lack of understanding for the other. Despite the humor, the song ends on a strangely compassionate note, as the "old geezer" gives the girl $10 and drops her off, thinking she'll "need a reason to live tonight."
The Gourds' ballads have always been witty and danceable, but on Haymaker! the lyrics have more emotional range than ever before. "I know the way you can get, when the soul hears a lonely sound," Russell croons in his raspy tenor. It's a line that could easily come off as too emotive, but the swinging string-groove propping the lyrics up turns the song into a barn-raising dance. That's just what the Gourds do best: throw a kick-ass party and discuss the meaning of life while they're at it. Haymaker! suggests they're less cynical than in previous years. It's a welcome shift.
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