Yep Roc Records
2 out of 5 Stars
The Gourds are a band born out of the proud Austin, Texas music scene. And, like many of their hometown brethren, the members take their Lone Star tradition very seriously. Within the first seconds of Haymaker!, vocalist Kevin Russell announces “Wake up, we goin’ to the country” while his guitar unleashes some serious down-home twang. Surprisingly, there’s no follow-up “yeeeeehaw,” but the message is clear from the beginning: as the title of the first song suggests, the album is all about “Country Love.”
But while this sort of mentality works a special magic in the whiskey-soaked bars of downtown Austin, The Gourds suffer when their sound is taken out of the roadhouse and constrained to an album. Outside of a live context, there is no carefree bar ambiance or charismatic stage presence for the band to fall back on. Unfortunately, these things are essential to the appeal of bands like The Gourds, who play standard, jaunty blues tunes and don’t have the grace or originality to survive on musical merit alone. Listening to Haymaker! is like listening to a Soulja Boy song quietly at home — it just doesn’t feel right.
Despite the nagging feeling that some vital component is missing, Haymaker! shows fleeting signs of songwriting prowess. “Fossil Contender” boasts a sing-along chorus and showcases the strength of Russell’s gravelly voice that at times captures all the blue-collar conviction of Springsteen. The band sows its country roots on “All the Way to Jericho,” a swaggering gospel number that’s endearing enough to break up the monotony that defines the rest of Haymaker!.
While there are moments where enough ol’ timey charm comes through to pique listener interest, there are far too many tracks that seem to revel in the generic. It’s difficult to sit through long stretches of Haymaker! without the word “bland” constantly coming to mind, and its just as hard to shake the feeling you’ve heard this same freewheeling alt-country act before. Sometimes it’s possible to completely forget music is playing at all — the deluge of noise simply drifts into the background, but not in a pleasant, atmospheric way. It’s more like how an incessant car alarm gradually becomes unnoticeable.
After more than a decade of playing together, The Gourds are growing old and their chances of making a real impact on music are slipping away. Aside from being the apple of many an Austinite’s eye, The Gourds owe a great deal of success to their irresistible bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” It’s a shame, then, that they couldn’t take the innovation shown in that cover and apply it to their own original music. They’re clinging to some rigidly defined mold, afraid to write outside of what they think they should sound like. Unfortunately, that’s just what they need to do if they want to progress in today’s music world.