By Bryant Liggett
November 11, 2011

The Gourds are a musical gumbo; a mix of outlaw country, folk, rock and punk, resulting in a sound that’s uniquely Gourds.

The Austin, Texas, band remains a loose conglomeration of multi-instrumentalists and songwriters, a band with plenty of original music and even more covers. It’s tough to compare them to anything.

The Gourds will make a return to Durango tonight with a performance at the Henry Strater Theatre. No change in the lineup since their last visit: It’s Kevin Russell on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Jimmy Smith on bass and vocals; Claude Bernard on keyboards, accordion and guitar; Max Johnston on banjo, fiddle, guitar, lap steel and vocals; and Keith Langford on drums.

On this tour they’re pushing the new record “Old Mad Joy,” which The Gourds recorded outside their home base of Texas, where the preceding 10 records were put together. They took off to Woodstock, N.Y., to record at Levon Helm Studios with producer Larry Campbell. Campbell played on Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” album and produced Helm’s last two releases. Leaving Texas and hiring a producer is a new twist on recording for the Gourds.

“We didn’t want to make the same record we’d been making,” Russell said. “Self-produced records in a band as democratic as our band are a difficult challenge. Especially making those records in Austin – everyone is making them in between their lives, their kids and their wives. Between planning meals and school pickups. It’s not easy to do.”

Woodstock seemed like a good fit, and with the help of new label Vanguard, it happened.

“We wanted to leave town and do it all together in one place, where we could really focus on it for an extended period of time and live with it a bit,” Russell said, adding that he was surprised someone with Campbell’s credentials would take them on. “Also, we wanted to get a producer to have an objective voice and opinion. I thought it was pie in the sky – why would they want to work with a weirdo band from Austin?”

After getting to know the band, Campbell took on the project. The recording sessions were often graced by Helm himself, acknowledging the band, but giving preferred treatment to drummer Langford, who played on the legendary drummer’s kit. Recording in Woodstock and leaving home for the project is something they don’t regret.

“It was probably, and I think I can speak for everybody, that it far exceeded any of our expectations, and we had some pretty high expectations,” Russell said.

The Gourds remain a band that can be loosely compared to Helm’s old outfit The Band; multi-instrumentalists and numerous vocalists who play Americana rock ’n’ roll. Russell joked that the comparisons should end there.

“We lived and loved punk rock, and they didn’t. They didn’t know anything about punk rock,” he said. “Robbie Robertson would tell you he was and is, so you’d think he was open-minded and all cool, but I don’t think he liked the Sex Pistols.”

The Gourds, 8 p.m., $20, Henry Strater Theatre, 699 Main Ave., 375-7160.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at

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