Music review: The Gourds sound familar but stand out at The Linda

“Old Mad Joy,” the album the Gourds just made in Woodstock, is a fine-sounding record, but they soun

“Old Mad Joy,” the album the Gourds just made in Woodstock, is a fine-sounding record, but they sounded even better on Wednesday at WAMC’s The Linda.

The Austin band — five guys who look like any five guys you’d meet in a truck stop at 3 a.m., plain as corn cobs — are simply and overwhelmingly great at playing together.

Familiar sounding yet bracingly cliché free, they earned their frequent comparisons to The Band, especially in “Caledonia” and “Ink and Grief,” but also whenever Jimmy Smith hit a particularly muscular bass riff. Swapping instruments around from their conventional electric configuration to take up mandolin and banjo, they evoked the lighter-than-air zip of bluegrass in “Big Santiago Bust” and “Bottle and a Dime.” And they dusted off a powerful reflection of the Rolling Stones’ bluesy grind in the last song in their 90-minute set “Drop What I’m Doing,” before explosive encores.

But they had depth to match their range, too. As jovial as these guys were between songs, they really meant it when they fired up each one, playing with the crisp authority only the best bands can conjure.

Even a train wreck in “Sweet L’il” utterly failed to faze them. They just stopped, consulted on the words — noting they’d been concentrating on new songs and thought erroneously that they could uncork this old one — fired it up again and brought the audience along easily on the restart.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Several songs on “Old Mad Joy” were far from joyful, depicting crime and punishment, as in “Two Sparrows” and “Eyes of a Child.” And these got all the moral gravity they deserved.

The crowd was fully with them and got what they deserved in a high-impact rock ‘n’ roll show that slammed, soothed and sang.

Smith and guitarist Kevin Russell sang most of the leads, but keyboardist/accordion player Claude Bernard and bluegrass instruments specialist Max Johnson got good mic time. Only Keith Langford didn’t sing, and his drumming was highly musical in the best way. Russell got most of the solos, but the Gourds were more about unity, combined strength and cohesion than individual outbursts, a very impressive and entertaining down-to-earth rock ‘n’ roll band.

To start the evening, Patrick Sweeney grabbed his fat green hollow-body guitar, slammed his foot on a stompboard to launch a groove, and was instantly all the band he needed to open and nearly steal the show.

Loud and proud, he looked and sounded like Chris Isaak’s just-paroled little brother. But Sweeney made music from other Memphis neighborhoods than just the Isaak-like, Sun Records-style rockabilly where he started his 45-minute set, showing a deep mastery of soul, blues and R&B. Fasten-your-seatbelt intense, friendly, fierce and fearless, Sweeney sang and howled in a raw, at times abrasive rasp, except when he scuffed off the edges for a few love songs — some about people, some about places or times.

Playing slide on a Telecaster, he was a bluesman, but Memphis soul and southern-fried rock dominated, and Sweeney completely dominated The Linda.

Categories: Entertainment

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