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The Gourds
Blood of the Ram

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Eleven Thirty Records 7003 

 

  The Gourds may be the most dangerous band in America. They aren't hazardous to your bodily health, but they can certainly cause pain and consternation to your cerebral cortex, especially if you have a limited ability to absorb new ideas. Their melodies aren't subversive, but their lyrics certainly are. Unless you believe in the true healing power of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you may find yourself at odds with much of the Gourds textural message.  The Gourds are true bacchanalian messiahs.

From the opening bars of the lead cut "Lower 48" the Gourds envelope you in a warped American gothic world of multi-cultural street theater. Imagine The Band on an extended, multi-intoxicant bender. Formed in 1994, The Gourds consist of Kev Russell on guitars, mandolin and vocals, Jimmy Smith on bass, guitars, and vocals, Claude Bernard on accordion, guitars, keyboards, and vocals, Keith Langford on drums, percussion and harmonica, and Max Johnston on fiddle, banjo, lap steel, guitars, mandolin, and vocals. The Gourds don't need no stinkin' guest artists.

Sometimes the Gourds' musical influences are obvious, such as the homage to Al Green "Escalade," while other times their inspirations ooze from dark places only hinted at by Doc Boggs. "Illegal Oyster" squirms out from one of these musical cesspools. "Wired Ole Gal" steals the drum pattern from Tom Petty's ‘She's an American Girl" to create an eerily warped take on American femininity.  The tune "Arapahoe" couples Garth Hudson-like vocal inflection with uniquely quirky quasi-religious lyrics "Seven African powers, sawed off double barrel shot gun, old fashioned crucifixion, the kind my grand pappy done."  The most poetic song on this album has to be the title cut "Blood of the Ram." The combination of Waylon Jennings-like vocals and guitar stylings with graphic images of a humongous ram being slaughtered, thereby inundating a town in a tsunami of blood, will probably never get any airtime on PBS. Still this ram ranks right up with Paul Bunyan's Ox Blue as one of the most majestic creatures in the annals of American livestock fables.

The sound on Blood of the Ram has as much eclecticism as the music itself.  Sometimes the mixes are lush multi-layered sonic confections, while other times the sound is so raw you wonder if they used anything more sophisticated than a Dixie cup and a string. I seriously doubt mixing engineer Mark Hallman and mastering engineer Jim Wilson will ever have a more challenging or ambitious project. The final result covers the entire realm of sonic possibilities available through modern recording technology. Think Sergeant Pepper for the first decade of the 21st century.

Music has powerful medicinal properties. Any time I begin to slip into a depression over the seemingly inexorable homogenization of contemporary music, I just slap Blood of The Ram on my CD player. This disc gives me hope that our musical future may be something other than a large beige blotch upon the cultural landscape. You need a copy of Blood of the Ram; otherwise you will be ethnocentrically doomed.

 

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