The Seattle Times: Country Is At The Core

Editor's note: The following review was taken from a more complete look at 5 albums set to be released on Tuesday. Click here to read the rest of that article.

The Gourds, "Old Mad Joy" (Vanguard)

For their 11th studio album, country/roots eclectics The Gourds have signed for the first time with a major label. And for the first few tracks you can't help but wonder if they — with Levon Helms' producer Larry Campbell — polished things up too much. Clean-cut melodies, too much repetition and restrained vocals lead us into "Old Mad Joy." But by track four the suspenders are unbuttoned, unleashing the more-energy/less-perfection of the Austin, Texas group's live shows.

On "Haunted," singer Max Johnston scoops through a satisfying country cry break. "Peppermint City" is a joyful, mumbled, hand-clapping blues number. "Melchert," with its Doors-approved organ riff, has some typically Gourds-weird imagery. (Decipher this: "Pan epidemic in the popcorn bucket/Chase the dragon you say ante well up it.") Per usual, there are ample instruments and styles (the opening track is flavored with accordion-pumped Zydeco). But country is at the core, and the album's most captivating moments come when the band plays loose, pairing dark, erudite lyrics with steel guitar, sawing fiddle and gospel swells.

Joanna Horowitz, Special to The Seattle Times

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