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Published: 2006/01/12
by Matt Brockett

Heavy Ornamentals – The Gourds

Eleven Thirty

Internet saavy music fans may know The Gourds from their wacky bluegrass version of Snoop Dogg's classic party anthem "Gin and Juice," but on Heavy Ornamentals, their eighth studio album, they display their musical maturity, without ever losing any of the humorous and adventurous eccentricities their fans find so helplessly endearing. Nailing down an accurate description of The Gourds’ music that truly does their sound justice is surprisingly challenging. Vocalist, guitarist and mandolin player Kevin Russell feels "Tubgut Stomp and Red-eyed Soul" is a fairly accurate description, and is coincidentally the name of an older Gourds tune he wrote.

The '60s psychedelic rock influence in "Shake The Chandelier" and "Pick & Roll," is bolstered by Claude Bernard's choice of throwback keyboard effects. The beginning of "Mr. Betty" is reminiscent of the swaggery whiskey-soaked rock of the young Rolling Stones. A shoutout to an unexpected influence, the New York Dolls' Johnny Thunders, can be heard on the rocking countrified "Declineometer." The Gourds' unrelenting sense of humor is prevalent throughout the album. The hilarious "New Roommate" tells the stories of a cast of four ill-fated roommates, including one who was so broke he "couldn't buy a bag of farts," and a lesbian who is "the best yet." Songwriter Jimmy Smith goes on to lament about yet another annoying roommate, and how "that son of a bitch owns the place, I take out the trash."

Even with their ever present humor, The Gourds certainly don't shy away from some more serious subjects from time to time. The sparse and emotional "Our Patriarch" shows a somber side of the band that may come as somewhat of a surprise to many fans. The classic country-western sounding tune "Pill Bug Blues" deals with the sad reality of pharmaceutical drug abuse, but still has that sharp Gourds wit in lines like "whiskey is the devil, but a friend of mine" and "you don't have to work, or even pray, roll all the roaches in my ashtray."

One can't help but smile at engaging and creative lyrics like those on the upbeat bluegrass song "Burn The Honeysuckle," with a narrator who "killed me a panther, 'fore I was even grown" and a wife who "bore me seven babies in ten years time, with skin like tobacco, and eyes like wine." Bernard's accordion work really adds to the rootsy flavor of the song as well.

Powerful, emotionally charged vocals seem to have become somewhat of a trademark for The Gourds, and the analog recording methods used on Heavy Ornamentals really help to give all the tunes a much fuller, realistic acoustic sound. There’s bluegrass ("Stab"), straight-up country ("Pill Bug Blues"), old school honky tonk rock n’ roll ("Hooky Junk"), and some Schoolhouse Rock ("The Education Song") all rolled into one impressive collection of souful, honest well-written songs.

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