In a town legendary for harboring hometown musical outlaws, the Austin-based band The Gourds might not be able to hide out much longer. The release of Stadium Blitzer is hard evidence, proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that there is still a whole lot of pickin' and grinnin' going on deep in the heart of Texas.
The CD is an eclectic mix of country, rock and bluegrass. Yet if forced, the music would break any conventional mold, As Nashville saturates the market with music and performers too easily confused with Top 40, The Gourds come as a welcome surprise.
Although sixteen tracks might appear excessive, almost any song can stand on its own. For openers, "Lament" and "Plaid Coat" are toe-tappers just daring you to sit still, followed by "Magnolia," a downright foot-stomper that features a mean harmonica.
While not hard-core, the acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies of both "Pine Island Bayou" and "Cold Bed" have that definitive bluegrass sound. The classic country ballads "Stadium Blitzer" and "I Like Drinking" seem custom-made for a dangerously slow two-step in a honky-tonk where the chicken wire is still in good repair.
There are eccentric yet interesting stories to be heard with "Coppermine" and "Maria." "Raining in Port Arthur" takes a slow, painful look into the past and it's a mesmerizing, emotional ride.
You name it, they play it. Band members Claude Bernard, Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith play accordion, mandolin, banjo, guitars, bass and percussion. Sitting in and definitely standing out are J. J. Jamieson on harmonica on "Magnolia" and Robert Bernard playing banjo on "Lament." Also, Charlie Llewellin played traps with the band from 1994 until 1997.
Recorded on a ranch in Comfort, Texas, the overall sound of the CD makes you feel as if you're sitting on the living room floor with these guys during a jam session. By avoiding a slick, processed sound, all the fun that goes into the music comes through the recording. The Gourds are pros at having fun and it proves very infectious.