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Sweet and Tart Americana

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The Gourds
Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre
Sat., May 5th, 6 p.m.
Tickets: $20 adv/$25 day of

WATER THE GOURDS: Texas alt-country band hail newest release, ‘Old Man Joy,’ as part of their upcoming show at Greenfield Lake this Saturday. Courtesy photo

Texas has been known to churn out ground-breaking music across a spectrum of greats. From indie rock to blues, rockabilly to folk to swing, legends get made here. Just look to Leadbelly, Willie Nelson, T-Bone Burnett, Daniel Johnston and Spoon for proof. Something must be in the water—and it rooted quite a fruitful gourd back in 1992.

Then made up of multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and lyricists Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith, with accordion player Claude Bernard and drummer Charlie Llewellin, it wasn’t until late ‘97 that the current lineup of The Gourds was born. Longtime friend Keith Langford replaced Llewellin on percussion, and Max Johnston, notably of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco fame, also joined after doing a few sets on their 1993 album, “Ghosts of Hallelujah.”

“We all met at [Austin’s] Electric Lounge where we each had different bands going,” Langford told encore last week. “Spoon was getting their start in there about the same time. The Gourds had an accordion and a mandolin cranked real loud in the PA; it was incredible and blew the doors out of that place. Sadly, the Electric Lounge is a condo high-rise now.”

After first hearing such magnetic music, Langford attested the band better than anyone else on the Austin scene. He set his sights on playing with them, but was too drum-shy to quit the Damnations TX. After his bandmates caught on to his wishes, they released him. A dozen albums and 150 shows a year later, he’s still holding strong with The Gourds, who haven’t only made tons of Americana, alt-country and honky-tonk-inspired music together but have kept their wits about them along the way. In fact, it’s almost mandatory for every album to showcase a smidgeon of their tongue-in-cheek repertoire, as heard on 2009’s “Haymaker” in “Tex Mex Mile”: “Well, the South Congress whores/they is a movin’ on down the line/They moved the cinema west down to Interstate 35/The ho’s got their johns/following single file/The aint’t good lookin’/but they got that freaky style.”

“We’ve always made lots of room for humor in our music,” Langford confirmed. “Some confuse that with insincerity, but humor is such a great thing to have in songs—even better to have within your band. A two-hour sound check is a thousand times better if everyone is laughing at a ‘that’s what she said’ comment.”

Yet, the group isn’t without reverence, much of which can be heard on their 2011 release, “Old Mad Joy.” Undertones of gospel and heartfelt charm runs rampant on the work, which was recorded in Woodstock, NY, at the one and only Levon Helm Studios. It’s something Langford referred to as magical.

“That whole experience was musically fulfilling,” he said. “It was fortunate we had that opportunity at this time in our careers. We learned a lot from [producer and previous Bob Dylan guitarist] Larry Campbell. Larry identified all the good singers in the band and really encouraged that part of us. I hope it’s something we take from that experience forever; to never shy away from the singing and harmony.”

Jaunty rhythms backed in singsong fashion, with irresistible grooves, The Gourds mastered a blend of what’s expected of roots and eclectic rock on “Old Mad Joy.” From the organ’s prickly peeps on “Melchert” to the accordian’s slight sways on “I Want it So Bad,” to the frivolous fiddle bows on “You Must Not Know,” the album is like a sweet and tart taste of Americana candy. Having met Helm then was especially timely, considering his recent passing. It ranks high among the band’s milestones. The influence of such a legendary musician is apparent just in the feeling of the record.

“It was a dream come true for us,” Langford said. “He was a great influence—the Band and Dylan both as well. I hope his family and friends can continue what he created in the last phase of his life up there in Woodstock: The Midnight Ramble and the Studio Barn. He built something special there—both for the community and all artists in our genre.”

Recording in the country and away from distractions harkened back to days when The Gourds would find their own refuge to spur creativity. “The first few [albums] were created in an old rock farmhouse in the Texas hill country with remote studio gear,” Lagford said. “They were great hangs! We were younger, without families and could just set-up camp there for weeks.” Though they’re not relegated to sleeping in bunkbeds or cabooses, they haven’t lost the same free-spirited appeal. Nor have they lost that influential ‘70’s country vibe which Langford accredits to Kevin Russell. It’s apparent in some of the most unexpected places, including their surprising covers, such as David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.”

“Kev heard that song from his little sister and loved it,” Langford noted of the famed “Doggystyle” tune. “He loves quite a few rap artists. The first time I heard it . . . I knew it was something special, and when we recorded it later, I knew a lot of people would hear it. But I didn’t know that I’d still be playing it 16 years later. It can still be an absolute kick in the pants on the right night.”

That night will arrive on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, as The Gourds play Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre. Tickets can be bought at Gravity Records ahead of the show or at the gate the day of.

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