Two by the Gourds
Sugar Hill CD SUG-CD-3923, 1998, reissued 2001 (54:31)
Bolsa de Agua
Sugar Hill CD SUG-CD-3920, 2000 (52:39)
Something old, something new
Linda Dailey Paulson, 22 August 2001
The Gourds have been one of Austin's best-kept musical secrets. This despite how hard the kids at Waterloo Records worked on hand-selling CDs to well-meaning Tex-pat tourists. Now that the group is being distributed by Sugar Hill, it seems this might change. Most notably, earlier works, including Stadium Blitzer, are being reissued.
Dem's Good Beeble introduced lots of folks to the band upon its release in 1996. Stadium Blitzer followed in 1998, again produced with Mike Stewart. The lineup also remained the same: Kevin Russell, Jimmy Smith, Charlie Bernard and Charlie Llewellin. Hearing this reissue made me want to pull out my copy of Dem's for a comparison. Okay, I did just that. I can't put my thumb on the minor changes in the group's pulse between these two projects. Perhaps the only difference is the novelty of the sound. Dem's was fresh. By the time Stadium rolled around we were acquainted enough with their sounds that it seemed familiar, and so, didn't have that Wow! factor. Regardless of the reason, their first recording remains the standard for comparison.
But this is a welcome reissue: Stadium is a loose, fun listen. I like the cricket chirps that are woven into various tracks and bookend the project. "LGO" with its accordion, horns and nasal vocals has a distinct, danceable sound. "Magnolia" is an uptempo country rocker combining horns with piano.
The changes release-to-release through the years are subtle. Okay. But the lineup change in recent years is obvious. Big duh. Max Johnson joined the group on Bolsa de Agua. It does seem the band gets more experimental and esoteric in their lyrical subject matter, and more musically loose-limbed as the years pass. This is evident on Bolsa. The instrumentation is similar, but the music is centered on spare lyrics. There is a strong undercurrent of silliness found in recent CDs, like the song "Pickles" on Bolsa. That's not entirely new to the band: Stadium Blitzer features the almost incomprehensible "I Ate the Haggis." But the silliness seems to be winning. Although there are a few good tunes on Bolsa, I long for cohesive good songs like "Raining in Port Arthur" or "Lament," found on Stadium Blitzer. Sugar Hill's fancy, enhanced CD does include a home movie of the guys hanging out, playing football as we listen to 'em sing "El Paso."
The jury's still out on the Gourds. It remains to be seen what if any influences Johnson will exert on the group. There's no indication yet if their affiliation with Sugar Hill will result in any creative shifts forward. For now, if you've never heard the group, start with Stadium Blitzer and Dem's Good People (also reissued by Sugar Hill).
Claude Bernard, accordian, guitars, percussion, vocals; Jimmy Smith, bass, guitar, percussion, noises; Kevin Russell, mandolin, guitars, banjo, percussion, vocals, noises; Charlie Llewellin, traps
songs Stadium Blitzer · Lament · Plaid Coat · Magnolia · Stadium Blitzer · LGO · Boil My Strings · Coppermine · Maria · Raining in Port Arthur · Dyin' Diamond · When the Money Comes Rolling In · I Ate the Haggis · Cold Bed · Pushed Her Down · Pine Island Bayou · I Like Drinking
Bolsa de Agua
Claude Bernard, accordion, guitars, Wurlitzer oran, vocals; Jimmy Smith, bass, guitars, percussion; Kevin Russell, guitars, mandolin, ukelele, vocals; Max Johnston, vocals, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, slide guitar; Keith Langford, percussion, drums
songs El Paso · Jesus Christ · Big Santiago Bust · Receipts and Fevers · Pickles · O Rings · Bugs · Waterbag · Hallelujah Shine · Layin Around the House · Meat off the Bone · Flamenco Cabaret · Turn My Head Around · Tearbox · High Highs and Low Lows