The Gourds, Blood of the Ram

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Good-timing music with trailer-park beatnik verse in the classic American tall tale and storytelling tradition.

Nearly a dozen albums (including side projects) into a career still less than a decade old, the Gourds remain one of a kind, and remarkably consistent. Their good-timing, mostly acoustic music, in which harmonicas cozy up to accordions and brittle mandolins emulate banjos, is tonally and texturally backwoods rural without being escapist or nostalgic, and it's always danceable. The vocal harmonies of Jimmy Smith and Kevin Russell are like burnished leather that retains just enough roughness. Then there's their trailer-park beatnik verse, which revels in ribaldry, fanciful wordplay and surreal colloquialisms; the songs are in the classic American tall tale and storytelling tradition, as re-imagined by free-associating postmodernists on a weed-and-cheap-wine bender. "Lower 48" could be a travelogue by guys who've logged hundreds of thousands of miles in the van or it could be an uneasy commentary on this election season — or both ("Florida shakes in the mystery of numbers/ Pan handlers cookin 'them road kill wings/ Texas drinks from 1100 springs/ Cottonmouth and the copperhead are king"). Even when antecedents seem apparent — Al Green on "Escalade," Waylon Jennings on the title song — they sound like nobody but the Gourds. And that's a mighty fine way to sound.