If you’re hearing songs about fried chicken, prostitution, livestock and the state of your eternal soul, it can mean only one thing: a new Gourds disc. The fifth full-length from Austin, Texas’ alchemists of roots music, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig furthers the Gourds’ claim to the legendary throne of The Band and—not to put too fine a point on it—kicks much ass in the process.
Led by singer/songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith, The Gourds revisit their tried-and-true themes—food, liquor and fundamentalist Christianity—using nearly as many styles as (mostly acoustic) instruments in their musical bouillabaisse, including country, Cajun, rock, blues, funk, bluegrass and folk.
But there’s also a kinder, gentler sound courtesy of relative newcomer Max Johnston (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Freakwater). His turns on the Cajun jamboree of "1st In Line" and the bluegrass hoedown of "Blankets" are inspired, but it’s the Wilco-circa-A.M.-style country rock of "Best of Me" that expands the Gourds’ sound so well.
It’s addition by subtraction, because the rural-fried funk benefits from finally having a foil. Only the Gourds could give us such memorable moments as Russell’s sacrilegious couplet on "Foggy Blossom (Mechanical Bride)"—"Said the apple to the snake / Yer erotic forks are fake"—or Smith’s ode to alcohol on "Right in the Head"—"The brewer’s yeast ferments and forgives all that you did."
Even without an obvious-but-still-brilliant nod to The Band like "Ham-Fisted Box of Gloves," the Gourds are deserving heirs to that too-long-empty throne.