They have a new album called Haymaker!, which will be out right after the beginning of the year. It's probably their best album in a long career of good and very good albums. It's raw and soulful. There's a little more of a Cajun influence and a lot more classic Levon Helm hillbilly wail this time around. There are songs about do rags. There are songs about otherwise unknown people named Thurman. There are songs about fossils. And there are great love and unrequited love songs. They do what they've always done, only better. Right now it's at the top of my Best Albums of 2009 list. Yeah, I know. But I'll still bet that it won't move off the list. --Paste Magazine's Andy Whitman
The exclamation point in the title of the Gourds' latest album doesn't lie: The Austin-based band plays an emphatic, exclamatory amalgam of Americana styles, ambling through pre-rock country, bluegrass, rockabilly, and Western swing. The Lone Star angle is essential in differentiating the band from the crowd of Appalachia-descended string bands who have sprung up in the Gourds' wake; the Hackensaw Boys, the Avett Brothers, and Chatham County Line play many of the same instruments, but toward regionally and musically different ends. The Gourds draw from the same well as Doug Sahm, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Bush, which makes them part bar-band rockers and part ensemble pickers. In their live shows, they dig their spurs into a song and open up its possibilities, whether it's a spirited original or an unlikely cover. Their stage presence is the key to their longevity, but their studio albums have become increasingly adventurous, with 2007's Noble Creatures and now Haymaker! gradually closing the gap between their recorded material and their performances.
The non-punctuation part of that album title refers to a knockout punch that floors your opponent. That might be overselling the album, but a dependable swing isn't far off. Haymaker! is a typically witty, rambunctious album that shuffles up the band members like a deck of cards. Three of the five Gourds sing lead, which gives each song a distinct personality without making it sound like a different band. Kevin ''Shinyribs'' Russell, besides having a great nickname, has perhaps the most recognizable voice here, lending a down-home quality to ''Country Love'' and ''The Way You Can Get''. Jimmy Smith sounds like Springsteen sitting in with the Sir Douglas Quintet on ''New Dues'' and ''Thurman'', although he can't redeem the awkward hook of ''Luddite Juice''. That leaves Max Johnston singing the modestly mournful ''Valentine'' and the closer ''Tighter'' and sounding about 20 or 30 years older than he actually is. If Noble Creatures made the Gourds sound like yokel Burroughses, writing lyrics so nonlinear they sounded like cut-ups, Haymaker! creates a more lucid slang that emphasizes backporch wordplay on Smith's otherwise pedestrian rocker ''Country Gal'' and nearly anthropological details on Shinyribs' trucker anthem ''Shreveport''.
''Wake up! We're going to the country,'' Shinyribs sings on the energetic opener ''Country Love'', which ushers you into the Gourds' rural realm, where watching the stars together counts as a date and where a hook in the chorus is just as good as a hook in a fish. In fact, Haymaker! has a travelogue feel, which is perhaps inevitable for a hard-touring band. These songs traipse across northern Louisiana (''Shreveport'') to the Texas plains (''All the Way to Jericho'', namesake of the notoriously muddy Jericho Gap on Route 66) and points west (''Tex-Mex Mile''). They stop to pick up an idealistic hitchhiker in a tight Che t-shirt on the stand-out ''Bridgett'', on which Smith balances grinning wit and searing regret over Claude Bernard's rangey accordion. ''I bid adios to my camouflage rider,'' he sings wistfully. ''She said, 'Thanks for the lift, you old geezer.''' That punchilne has some real sting to it, more potent for being so unexpected and more barbed for bursting his expectations. The Gourds' trip just gets longer and stranger. --Pitchfork (7.5)
It's not every country band that would write a song about being a Luddite, or one that finds its narrator relating, all too deeply, to a rotting fossil on the beach. But the Gourds, who wrote both odes, clearly aren t just any country band. The Austin-based act first made waves 10 years ago by performing twangy covers of Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust' and Snoop Dogg's 'Gin and Juice.' It s their own songs, though, that have showed the wit and depth that lay beyond their titters.
The Gourds' new CD, 'Haymaker,' finds them matching firmly grounded country-rock (à la the Band) to self-deprecating, if not self-satirizing, lyrics.
In 'Bridget,' the song s middle-aged narrator picks up a hitchhiking wanna-be revolutionary girl, decked out in a Che Guevara T-shirt, who s on her way to cast her first vote. The driver condescends to the kid; she thinks he s an old fool, but the Gourds make the relationship poignant in its mismatched brevity. In 'Shreveport,' the guys name-check Geddy Lee of Rush in a song about a shmo who hates the very bar scene he can t keep away from.
In sensibility, these songs don't fall far from the work of the Bottle Rockets, Southern Culture on the Skids or the Drive-By Truckers, rural hipsters all. Some of the vocals can recall another rootsy humorist, John Hiatt. All this adds to the husky sound the Gourds make, one rooted in old soil but goosed by a warped-enough sensibility to keep it spry. --New York Daily News