Release Date: Jan 6, 2009
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Country
Texas songwriting vets mature in their storytelling The Gourds are notorious for their haphazard lyrical subjects (ranging from Shakespeare to flatulence), and Haymaker! is no exception. Songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith jumble together a wide range of stories—whores working the "Tex-Mex Mile," a "fossil contender" digging up ancient skulls and a moonlit drive to Jericho in a "rusted automobile”—like a group of tattered, brightly-painted marionettes dancing to the hoe-down tune of accordions, harmonicas, strings and drums. On previous albums, especially 2006's Heavy Ornamentals, the band has woven tongue-in-cheek contempt for its subjects into many of its stories, from a slew of inconsiderate cohabitators ("New Roommate"), to college kids with special knowledge ("The Education Song").
“Your country loving is so sweet” sing the Gourds on their latest studio release, Haymaker!. Although the line is for a woman, they may as well be singing it about themselves. After more than a decade wherein they have earned a reputation for a smartass, hyper-clever lyrical repertoire, not to mention a smoking live show, to turn around and use their own word choice, “sweet”, to describe their new record, may seem a slight.
There are few bands that can successfully (as in without a hint of clichéd, deep south treacle) open a record with the line "Wake up! We're going to the country," but Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell's ode to the simple (carnal) life splits the difference between hillbilly rapture and secular joy with workmanlike precision, a skill that the Gourds have been applying to their signature brand of idiosyncratic honky tonk for over a decade. The band's ninth album (and second for "smart pop" stronghold Yep Roc Records) continues the Austin-based ensemble's penchant for offbeat Southern minutia and melodious, after-hours juke joint revelry, but despite boasting production values that rival anything before it, Haymaker! feels less like the blow to the face that its title implies and more like a last quick rummage through the basement before the garage sale starts -- to be fair, the band has put out on average an album a year since the late '90s, and even a mediocre Gourds record outshines the majority of Americana/alternative country-rock releases in a given year. Russell provides most of the record's highlights, preaching up a tornado of goodness on "The Way You Can Get," hittin' the town with "Roaches in the ashes/truck jamming "Limelight"/Look like it's gonna be just me and Geddy Lee tonight" on the near-perfect "Shreveport," and rallying the troops on the aforementioned "Country Love," but its' not enough to save Haymaker! from being the most musically unadventurous of the band's highly prolific career, despite the fact that "Back of my head smells like a kick drum" from Jimmy Smith's "Fossil Contender" may be the best lyric of 2009.
Few acts can make the tenacity of merely surviving sound celebratory, so maybe the Gourds really were made for these times. The local quintet's 10th studio offering is polished and direct but still distinctly and eclectically Gourdian, from the growling New Orleans blues-funk of "The Way You Can Get" to the weary, slurring, back-porch banjo of "Hey Thurman. " Yet the Gourds have always been as aesthetically outside the norm as they are stylistically unique, and Haymaker! revels in a mad world, whether exuberantly escaping it on kickoff "Country Love" or rocking the breadline on "New Dues.