Twangy roots acts with a sense of irony can always be counted on to assemble a reasonably large following in their hometown. That's been the case for the Austin, Texas-based Gourds, who cemented a solid fan base with a mandolin-laced cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" that sounded like it was lifted directly from one of the Band's classic rock 'n' roots hoedowns. There's even a clip on YouTube featuring a mellow, grinning Snoop bobbing his braids to a decidedly lo-fi playback of the Gourds' version of the tune.
But the interesting thing about the Gourds is that even with a seriously inventive novelty cover under their belts, they didn't give up on original music. The picky Texas music press might have complained periodically that the band erred by concentrating too much on party-perfect Americana grooves. But no one could deny that primary songwriter Kevin Russell can turn a phrase. Or that the band's hybrids of country, bluegrass, rock, folk and blues were pretty much guaranteed to click live.
Which bring us to the Gourds' latest effort, Noble Creatures. The bows to the Band are still very much in evidence, but this time around Russell is concentrating on slower numbers that show off the Gourds' control of both emotional and musical dynamics. Indeed, the wistful, molasses-smooth "Promenade" finds Russell dissecting faded love with all the intelligence and graceful humanity of a classic country balladeer. "Steeple Full of Swallows," a similarly introspective tune that, despite a spare arrangement, has a lighter-flicking Skynyrd vibe to it, is also the sort of composition that seems pitched directly at folks who've left the beer bars behind.
Not to worry, though. The Gourds still know how to party Americana style. The Tex-Mex update "All in the Pack" would shake sweat from a stone, and the horn-powered "How Will You Shine?" explodes with good vibes.
Will the party animals be clamoring for "Gin & Juice" at the High Noon? Undoubtedly. But Russell and company keep proving that they can't and won't be defined by just one monumentally clever cover.