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I’ve long been a fan of Austin's the Gourds, who more than just about any other contemporary act have channeled the broad Americana spirit that once made the Band such a potent force. Songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith have pretty disparate singing voices—Russell has a poetic, scruffy dog delivery loaded with naturalistic Texas drawl and Smith has a pinched yet appealing squawk—but the combination provides impressive range. I think they're at their best when they're writing serious songs like “Promenade,” a stunningly gorgeous ballad from their new record, Noble Creatures (Yep Roc), but they like playing the fool, too. In the late 90s they pulled off an unlikely transformation of the Snoop Dogg classic “Gin and Juice,” turning it into a rootsy anthem, but sometimes their goofy sense of humor is a real liability.
I can deal with the nonsensical lyrics and Smith’s exaggerated delivery on record, but the last time I saw the Gourds live they bummed me out in a serious way. They played well but emphasized their shticky side, a decision that seemed to explain their increased popularity with people I might charitably dub knuckleheads, the kind of baseball-cap wearing twerps who find no greater delight than raising a bottle of lite beer toward the stage when there’s some mention of booze, weed, or women. In other words, jam-band yobbos. As good as the Gourds are—and the new record is pretty darn great—their fans are enough to keep me home. If you can bear it, the band plays the Abbey Pub tomorrow night.