The Gourds

Texas Platters

Phases and Stages

The Gourds

Blood of the Ram (Eleven Thirty)

"Kevin loves Bob Wills and Jimmy loves the Pogues," one fan explained of the Gourds' rustic cachet to another at Jovita's the other night. "How can you go wrong?" He's right – they haven't so far. Not that there's ever a question of wrongdoing with the Gourds' music. This Austin institution is as tough, colorful, and sometimes as warty as the vegetable they're named for. Their rambunctious music sends critics rushing to thesauri and scratching the dirt for appropriately authentic adjectives, and Blood of the Ram is no exception. Any album that opens with a song as exuberant as Kevin Russell's "Lower 48" and follows it with Jimmy Smith's fine-ass "Triple T Gas" is promising the listener a good time at the dance. Smith and Russell are a musical dream team: strong enough to stand alone, but invincible together as they layer backwood waltzes and country ballads (Max Johnston's "On Time," "Wired Ole Gal") among Cajun two-steps ("Do 4 U") and their own irresistible rhythms ("Let Him In"). The 13 tracks on Blood of the Ram burst with enigmatic, sometimes baffling lyrics from Jimmy Smith ("Illegal Oyster," "Spanky," "Turd in My Pocket"), yet it's Kevin Russell who's really stepped up. "Prop your feet up on a demon and sip that morning dew," he croons on the swaying "Arapaho," and who are we to argue? While the Gourds weave an organic charm of easy beats, it's to Russell that Blood of the Ram owes its woolly strength. "Cracklins" and the title track run his gamut of Southern Gothic, but "Escalade" is pure, earthy joy – Al Green channeled in the East Texas swamps. How many great Gourds albums does this make? Lucky seven.

****   

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