Out Here

Bad Livers
Industry and Thrift
Sugar Hill

The Gourds
gogitchyershinebox
Watermelon/Sire

The Gourds' Kevin Russell and the Bad Livers' Mark Rubin and Danny Barnes used to live in the ol' 214, used to play Deep Ellum on weekends for spare change and drink tickets...and used to dream about moving to a city where their genius (oh, they wouldn't call it that--far too modest) didn't go to waste on empty clubs and emptier heads. It's amazing more local somebodies haven't picked up and moved to a city where they might be appreciated; what in the hell's stopping Cafe Noir and Cowboys and Indians and Ronnie Dawson from packing up the Chevy and moving to Austin--or anywhere else? Russell, Barnes, and Rubin got while the getting was good, moved to Austin before they got stuck in the mud, and ended up fronting two of the best bands in Capital City which is more than a backhanded compliment.

Russell (ex of Picket Line Coyotes) and Barnes and Rubin (once in Killbilly) make their hoe-down voodoo because it's in their blood. They're products of history, not ambitious desperation; you only play bluegrass because you have to, not because you want to. Those boys and their bands are the best sort of purists: They swim in tradition, but bring along enough pool toys to make a day of it. The Gourds may well be the '90s version of The Band, plucking on their mandolins and wheezing their accordions while they twang in perfect harmony, but on the eight-song EP gogitchyershinebox, they prove they're not such orthodox fetishists to keep from putting a little fresh paint on the old school. They turn David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" into an outtake from Music from Big Pink without rendering it into a retro-fitted novelty. Jimmy Smith does his best Rick Danko while the band lands the spaceship--and who would have thought a song so cool and distant could become so warm? And the Gourds finally include a studio version of the live favorite "Gin & Juice," with Russell twanging Snoop Dogg's gangsta rhapsody like a cracker homeboy on the back porch. Once you get past the easy laughs (something about hearing him sing "I got bitches in the living room getting it on" out of the side of his mouth), you realize it ain't a bad song. Whodathunk?

The Bad Livers' Industry and Thrift (the follow-up to The Newton Boys soundtrack) proves you can bow to the past while you dance into the future. "I'm Connected," with its trashcan percussion and droning slide, is where Rubin and Danny Barnes do rock instead of letting rock do them (see: "Lust for Life"); "A Yid ist Geboren inz Oklahoma," featuring Rubin's klezmer side band, dances the hora at the honky-tonk; and the electri-fried redo of Jimmie Skinner's Acuff-Rose gem "Doin' My Time" is where the Livers plug in and freak out. Used to be the Livers were historians on a mission; turns out they're inventing the future.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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