THE LAMEST THING about '90s roots rockers isn't their hackneyed portrayal of a vaguely understood and gloomily rendered agrarian past but the success their barnyard bathos has garnered. Thirteen years ago the Long Ryders rode in sporting Stetsons, "Looking for Lewis and Clark," and resuscitating the dead ghost of folk legend Tim Hardin with a rock 'n' roll twice as urgent as anything Jay Farrar ever mumbled over--only to tank like Drano. Today, Whiskeytown slouch onstage dressed like flanneled faux field hands, sing about next to nothing, and wind up with a feature in the new GQ. And then these prairie punks go off and call their scene "No Depression."
Well, hee-haw to y'all. I choose Austin's Gourds, easily the least depressing, and least publicized, roots-rock band out there. And the weirdest. Recording for an obscure Dutch label, the Gourds eschew sorrowful sentimentality to indulge in genre-fucks that have more in common with Cornershop's cross-cultural hip hop than Freakwater's neo-traditionalist country.
The liner notes for their new release, Stadium Blitzer, credit one Gourd player for "various noises" and another for "accidental noises."
Yet the slinky song "LGO" has one of the first identifiably funky bass lines to appear on a '90s country record (with the exception of Shania's Come On Over) and an accordion melody that knows damn well how close it's getting to the surf guitar in the Offspring's "Keep 'Em Separated."
This is daft, jubilant stuff. Blitzer's most telling vocal moment is Claude Bernard's warbling war whoop at the front of "Dyin' Diamond," an ode to joy that has more American gusto in it than a flock of Sun Volts. His lyrics are best when they avoid earnestness altogether. Like their raucous Dallas brethren the Old 97's, the Gourds would be as lyrically literal as Tom T. Hall if they had his poet's chops. "No longer a romantic/I ain't slack-jawed/I am responsible for the stupid things I say," drawls Bernard on one of their new album's driest numbers.
Yet, their songs about drinkin', coalminin', and the pathetic state of their economic affairs aren't nearly as nifty as the one that adds horns to a goofy, polka-like Tex-Mex groove and calls itself "I Ate the Haggis." They know it, too. "All my stories are about the same thing," Bernard admits on the gorgeous lament "Cold Bed." Must be a big thing.
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