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Haymaker!

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

''Gourds Music'' has its next chapter. Unclassifiable Austin sons The Gourds are back with Haymaker!, the crooked cousin to their critically acclaimed last album, Noble Creatures. On Haymaker! the band circles back, digs beneath and climbs over their gin soaked music roots with an album of grass-fed cosmic country. Rattling flourishes of soul, swamp rock and gospel rhythms spill out all over the place. Psychic songwriting apparatus Jimmy Smith, Kevin Shinyribs Russell and Max Johnston continue their chronicling of askew Texas characters who populate the subterranean Lone Star State, a world of 'Fossil Contender's', 'Luddite's', 'Valentines' and women with skin like chocolate milk, so beautiful they make married men feel no guilt. Haymaker! will undoubtedly slake the thirst of hardcore and fledgling Gourds fans alike and tip unsuspecting ears to the colorful Texas thump being laid down by this legendary band.

Review

There's a band out of Austin, Texas called The Gourds. I've loved them for years, but I always find myself somewhat tongue-tied (or keyboard-tied) when I try to describe them and their music. A couple of them have skanky ZZ Top beards, beerguts, and look like they should be driving big rigs. They have an accordion player named Claude. They have two lead singers who do very passable imitations of Levon Helm and Rick Danko from The Band -- merely two of the best rock vocalists ever. They play a sort of swamp rock/boogie/Cajun/country conglomeration that doesn't fit easily within any of those niches. And the songs? They sing about flatulence, Star Trek, weather girls, Schoolhouse Rock, and Catwoman. All of which would lead you to believe that they're a sort of weirdly adolescent, pop-culture-obsessed novelty act, which they are, but then they turn around and knock you out with a perfect unrequited love song that sounds so real and honest and desperate that you'd swear the lyrics were written in blood.
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

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Country Love
  2. Fossil Contender
  3. The Way You Can Get
  4. Hey Thurman
  5. New Dues
  6. All the Way to Jericho
  7. Valentine
  8. Country Gal
  9. Bridgett
  10. Shreveport
  11. Tex-Mex Mile
  12. Blanket Show
  13. Tighter


Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 6, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Yep Roc Records
  • ASIN: B001IF263U
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,456 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By loce_the_wizard VINE VOICE on January 8, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Here I go again, trying to find the right words to shape into a review of a Gourd's recording, this time their 2009 "Haymaker." The temptation, as always, is pile on the adjectives and dig through the thesaurus, so I'm going to try to keep this one lean and mean.

If you have been keeping up with the Gourds for some time, the best surprise here is that the music seems tidier, more focused, and less divergent than on some of their previous forays. A strong Tex-Mex seasoning permeates many of the tunes, and most of the rest have a smoky country flavor. The ballads that dominated their last album, "Noble Creatures," are not in favor here, as the band tends to get wound up and keep things rocking. And that means Jimmy Smith's tracks overall are a bit stronger than Kevin Russell's contributions this time out---but Max Johnson has penned a pair of fine tunes as well.

The Gourds have always been a sort of musical jambalaya, and nothing has changed (fortunately) as banjo, guitar, keyboards, accordion, drums, mandolin, and more combine with those (by-now) well-recognized vocals and harmonies. (Figuring out the lyrics will have to be left to bonfire and beer scholars who can focus their energies on such matters---I just appreciate the writing for its oddball insights and imagery.)

If you are looking for surprises or odd-ball stuff, don't expect anything as overt as their cover of Gin `n Juice. "Haymaker" delivers a more subtle punch and requires some burn-in time before you realize what a very good recording it is.
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I've read this is the best Gourds album yet. Upon listen 2, I think it may very well be - and that is quite a feat. I love the production - sounds very steady and even - like its played live and in a few takes. The fact that a Max Johnston track and the last one on the album (Tighter) is my top tune, really shows a strong, strong album is here.
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As other reviewers have noted The Gourds of Austin, TX are kind of hard to pin down or label musically. Don't let that minor technicality worry you one bit. One reviewer used the term "musical jambalaya", and that comes pretty close to encompassing the sound of The Gourds.

These guys are the real deal when it comes to "good music", and this latest studio release from them is a fine effort in a long line of "fine efforts". Do yourself a favor; buy this album, and try to catch a live show. You will not be disappointed....be sure to bring your dancing shoes.
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Selfishly, I don't want the world to find out just how good the Gourds are because then I might be forced to see them only at very large venues. But hey, if you have not listened to a Gourds' CD, get one now, and this is a good one to start with. Bluegrass/blues/country - good music, good lyrics - all around great band.
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I am a devotee of Doug Sahm and so I decided to check out the Gourds after hearing them on satelitte radio knowing they were big fans of the Texas Tornado. Not knowing their CD's I decided to take a chance on Haymaker. Like Sir Doug himself, the band likes to mix it up - playing some country, rock and tex mex in their own musical sense. I cant get enough of that roots music. The musical eclecticism on Haymaker is also reminscent of Levon Helm's work from the Dirt Farmer period and that is not a bad thing. For my taste, the playing is good and the music is on solid ground but the overall production and performance seemed a little restrained. Maybe it was my predisposed expectations but I think a live in the studio production would amp up the fun factor on this album. Needless to say I am hoping for great things from the Gourds.
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By Haymaker. On about the third listen, you begin to get just how strong this one is. Kind of broken in half by the very traditional sounding Max Johnston song "Valentine", the second half really cooks from "Country Gal" through "Blanket Show" with Kevin and Jimmy trading off on tunes. My only wish is that some of Kevin's songs had been allowed to go on ("All the Way to Jericho", "Country Gal", "Shreveport"), but I'm sure they will live.
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