Washington Post: No Matter How Much You Polish A Rhinestone, It Will Never Become A Diamond

Album review: "Old Mad Joy"
By Goeffrey Himes
Sept 30, 2011

The Gourds have never sounded better than they do on "Old Mad Joy," the new album they recorded with Larry Campbell as producer. Campbell, who was Bob Dylan's music director, achieves the perfect sonic balance between the Texas quintet's Americana craftsmanship and garage-rock spontaneity and even adds some tasty steel guitar.

But no matter how much you polish a rhinestone, it will never become a diamond. The Gourds' two lead singers, Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith, have limited voices and yet belt out these songs as if they were Van Morrison and Thom Yorke, leading to unsubtle blaring that the instrumental tracks, no matter how sparkling, can't camouflage.

Russell and Smith's lyrics are quite colorful but lead more often to arbitrary non sequiturs than to coherent stories. Juxtaposing odd references (Bugler tobacco, non-adhesive tape and Suzi Quatro) in successive lines, as Smith does on "Drop the Charges," doesn't necessarily produce meaning. And reshuffling gospel cliches, as Russell does on "Eyes of a Child," doesn't necessarily produce enlightenment.

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  1. Sad match-up of reviewer and artwork. Himes just doesn't get it, and the most credit he can muster is for the name brand producer? The Gourds are solid as solid comes, and they're a visionary band, unfettered by predestined narrative. They're a fresh breath of creativity springing from rootsy and rocky soil. Kevin Russell sings from the heart; Jimmy Smith's surrealism stretches my neurons. And those are good things. I miss the banjo on this record -- and mando is also scarce. But the Gourds are a band that just keeps pushing the envelope. They're a pulsing Austin music machine. Get 'em while they're hot. Live show at the State should be unforgettable, even with sound system's mushy middle. You'll remember how to have a really good time.

  2. The Gourds are simply the best band in the Universe. You have got to hear them live to fully appreciate how unique and talented they are. Kev and Jimmy are very different in their musical approach, yet they are wonderfully compatible together. The band is so solid musically and have played together over fifteen years leading to a live experience that only that experience can produce. The band has soul--something Mr. Himes just doesn't get. Does Dylan or the Dead hit every note perfectly? No. What do you want? An over-produced, lipsynched, autotuned pieces of insipid trash, or music from the depths of a band's collective pysche? See them at the State and judge for yourself.