Gourds will be Gourds, and they certainly are on this, their ninth album. But be prepared for a few surprises, too. The opening “How Will You Shine?” kicks off with a tinkly mandolin (doubling the piano) right out of Rod Stewart's Gasoline Alley, hardly an atypical sound for these Austin mavericks. But then the song develops into a personal/political statement — equal parts disillusionment and hopefulness — that's goosed along by a horn section, two elements that're quite out of character. Intransigent fans might be even more shocked two songs later by “Promenade,” which is a ballad, fer chrissakes. And not only is it a pretty nifty one at that, full of yearning and regret, but it's joined by others nearly as good, especially “Moon Going Down” (which sounds like it could have come off their first album, if they had recorded slo-toons back then).
Before anyone accuses the Gourds of going soft, though, they should become immersed in how compatible these ballads, with their rough, straining vocal harmonies and shiny, easy-going banjo and lap steel and accordion, are with such usual fare as “The Gyroscopic,” which sounds like the Band playing the Sir Douglas songbook; the Cajun-flavored “Cranky Mulatto,” a Gourds title if ever there was one; “Flavor on the Tongue,” a sort of hallucinatory Jimmie Rodgers blue yodel; and the swampy “Spivey.” In short, they're still making postmodern, word-slinging hoedown music that's as contagious as ever. If the mood is sometimes more downbeat, well, that's America 2007.