The Gourds may be the most dangerous band in America. They aren’t hazardous to your bodily health, but they can certainly cause pain and consternation to your cerebral cortex, especially if you have a limited ability to absorb new ideas. Their melodies aren’t subversive, but their lyrics certainly are. Unless you believe in the true healing power of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you may find yourself at odds with much of the Gourds textural message. The Gourds are true bacchanalian messiahs.
From the opening bars of “Lower 48,” the Gourds envelope you in a warped American gothic world of multicultural street theater. Imagine The Band on an extended, multi-intoxicant bender…
Formed in ’94, The Gourds are Kev Russell on guitars, mandolin, and vocals, Jimmy Smith on bass, guitars, and vocals, Claude Bernard on accordion, guitars, keyboards, and vocals, Keith Langford on drums, percussion and harmonica, and Max Johnston on fiddle, banjo, lap steel, guitars, mandolin, and vocals. The Gourds don’t need no stinkin’ guest artists.
Sometimes the influences are obvious, such as the homage to Al Green, “Escalade,” while other times they ooze from dark places. “Illegal Oyster” squirms from one of these musical tidal pools. “Wired Ol’ Gal” steals the drum pattern from Tom Petty’s “American Girl” to create an eerily warped take on American femininity. “Arapahoe” couples Garth Hudson-like vocal inflection with uniquely quirky quasi-religious lyrics, “Seven African powers, sawed off double-barrel shotgun, old fashioned crucifixion, the kind my grand pappy done.” The most poetic song on the album has to be the title cut; the combination of Waylon Jennings-like vocals and guitar stylings with graphic images of a humongous ram being slaughtered, inundating a town in a tsunami of blood, will likely never get airtime on PBS. Still, it ranks with Paul Bunyan’s ox, Blue, as one of the most majestic creatures in the annals of American livestock fables.
The sound on Blood of the Ram has as much eclecticism as the music itself. Sometimes the mixes are lush multi-layered sonic confections, while other times the sound is so raw you wonder if they used anything more sophisticated than a Dixie cup and a string. I seriously doubt mixing engineer Mark Hallman and mastering engineer Jim Wilson will ever have a more challenging project. The final result covers the entire realm of sonic possibilities available through modern recording technology. Think Sgt. Pepper for the first decade of the 21st century.
Music has powerful medicinal properties. Any time I begin to slip into a depression over the inexorable homogenization of contemporary music, I just slap Blood of The Ram on my player. It gives me hope that our musical future may be something other than a large beige blotch on the cultural landscape. Get Blood of the Ram, or be ethnocentrically doomed!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.