Melting pot 

The Gourds serve up a bouillabaisse of rockin’ sonic flavors

Heads up y’all, the Gourds are blowing back into Missoula. They’ve graced our town before and everyone who saw them will likely turn out for another round, but if you missed their last go-around, now’s your chance. The two shows they’re playing in Missoula are among their last before the band heads off on its European tour.

The Gourds’ music started back when band members picked up their first guitars as adolescents and took the Mel Bay approach to Willy Nelson worship. It was a pretty standard story of rock ‘n’ roll dreams and garage bands, complete with a precursor band called the Picket Line Coyotes that toured regionally and partied plenty. The Gourds as we know them today were born in bassist Jimmy Smith’s house, a.k.a. “the Steamy Bowl,” in Austin, Texas back in 1994.

It was on these grounds that the band nurtured their musical creativity and understanding of ephemeral pleasures through the ritual of “bottle night.” Bottle night was a weekly get-together involving a bottle of Jack Daniels (or one of his contemporaries) and a Sharpie marker with which poetic, profound and prophetic writings were recorded on the walls and ceilings of the Steamy Bowl. Along with the aforementioned Jimmy Smith on the low end, the band consists of Kevin Russell, the front man who plays guitar and mandolin and writes much of the music; Claude Bernard on the accordion; Keith Langford on percussion; and the newest gourd, Max Johnston. Max is the brother of skateboard punk rocker turned folkie Michelle Shocked and something of a multi-instrumentalist wonder. He plays mandolin, banjo, guitar, dobro, and fiddle.

Trying to describe the Gourds’ music requires the use of words that don’t exist in our language yet. They play their own liberally-spiced recipe of alternative country/Americana. Start with a base broth of country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll and then add roughly equal parts of waltz, tango, zydeco, two-step, old-timey and swamp-boogie. To be more gourdlike still, season well with obscure references to everything from Sufis and Spanish poetry to Curtis Mayfield and folk mythology.

Maybe it would be of some use to examine the name itself. The gourd family Cucurbitaceae has had a long and distinguished list of uses throughout recorded history. Gourds figure prominently into the lives of many people in Latin America. In Haiti they play such an important role that the standard coin is called the gourde. Besides being used for food and storage, gourds are also used to make hookahs or water pipes, to which they are especially well-adapted. Gourds even show up in the Bible: “And the Lord prepared a gourd and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief” (Jonah 4:6).

The Gourds’ Web site also points out that men in South America, Africa and New Guinea have been sheathing their penises with gourds for hundreds of years in something called a penistulp, which serves not only a decorative and ceremonial function, but also prevents men who swim in brackish waters from having their urethras invaded by a parasitic fish called the candiru. Maybe someone can ask these Gourds at the show what all this has to do with their music, but I think these guys are of the “all things are related” philosophy.

To further muddy the waters, there’s the cover they did of “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre. No holds barred here. The fact that they can even get away with that is a credit to their talent and flexibility. That they pulled it off that well is just so damn cool.

The Gourds have come a long way since they cut their first album, Dem’s Good Beeble, back in their infancy. Their four albums since then have helped perfect the musical recipe they used to cook up their new release, Bolsa de Agua, a finely flavored, slow-roasted pot of gourd soup. Bolsa de Agua will be released on the roots label Sugar Hill, which recently took on the band and will also be reissuing their entire catalog. The Gourds are playing two shows in Missoula, one on Feb. 27 and again on March 1, both at the Blue Heron. Theirs is “first and foremost a music of joy” and there will be room to dance. You never know what might happen.

The Gourds return to the Blue Heron Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 9:30 PM. Tickets are $12 in advance, available at Rockin Rudy’s. The March 1 show starts at 10. Please call 543-2525 for more information.

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