Blood of the Ram
Okay, I admit it. I have yet to drink the Kool Aid that would allow me to get where this Austin-based quintet is coming from. Perhaps best known for their 1998 bluegrass take on Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice,” The Gourds have a nice, gritty roots-rock sound. But I find the band’s lyrical experimentation on Blood of the Ram difficult to connect with.
The proceedings do get off to an agreeable start, however. It’s the sound of Louisiana that pervades the opening track, “Lower 48.” Even so, the band manages to squeeze in mention of the other 47 states; “Montana’s cold as the titties on witches,” guitarist Kev Russell sings at one point.
Russell also offers a slab of Memphis soul on “Escalade,” one of the record’s best tracks. It sounds something like John Hiatt covering the Reverend Al Green. “Illegal Oyster” is a loping, banjo-fed number that recalls The Band, a frequent point of comparison for The Gourds (along with NRBQ and Los Lobos). Mandolin colors “On Time,” courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, a veteran of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco who joined The Gourds in 1999.
But it’s the band’s oddball lyrics that ultimately make The Gourds a love ’em or leave ’em proposition. Southern vernacular, literary references, goofy wordplay and bizarre humor find equal favor here. Bassist Jimmy Smith’s “Let Him In” offers these lines: “Have you been a drinkin’/Old Bacchus taught me well/And yes I do remember/What the hell does that gots to do with anything?” Or how about these memorable lines from “Spanky”: “Why you could serve a turkey/On that man’s belt buckle/Well even if he whooped me/I couldn’t give a fuckle.”
Many rave about The Gourds’ live show and combination of endearing sloppiness and jam band-like virtuosity. For me, I just couldn’t find enough on this disc to pull me in. The down home sounds are nice as far as they go, but the lyrical diversions remain a taste I have yet to acquire.