Kevin Russell, founder of Austin’s famed Gourds, notes a kinship with Little Rock, not only with a strong fan base for the band here, but with many of the city’s musicians. He lamented the recent breakup of Mulehead, and he recalled earlier visits where he ran with the Gunbunnies and others.
“My old band, the Picket Line Coyotes [from Shreveport], we used to open for those guys at Juanita’s,” he said. “That was back when Bill Clinton was governor. Little Rock feels like a home away from home for us.”
With a new CD, “Blood of the Ram,” completed, the Gourds revisit familiar grounds, playing Sticky Fingerz on Saturday, Dec. 4, at 9:30 p.m. One of Austin’s most revered acts, which first worked in a run-down four-wall shack they dubbed the Steamy Bowl, is celebrating its 10th year.
“The CD is the big focus for us. A lot of the songs we’ve been playing for a while, but we’re trying to get some of the newer ones to gel in the live show,” he said. “It’s come along pretty well. As a group, we’ve just been talking a lot amongst ourselves about where we’ve been, where we want to go in the world. Everybody’s juggling new lives with families, with new babies. I’ve got a 6- and 4-year-old.”
Bandmates Claude Bernard and Jimmy Smith both have 1-year-olds and drummer Keith Langford’s wife has a baby on the way. All this family life has changed the way the Gourds do business.
“We don’t normally tour much in the winter time; being Southern birds as we are, we’re afraid of the ice and snow,” he said. “We like to hibernate, eat our chili and stay home. But with the timing of the record, we wanted to do something with it and also get out before Keith’s baby comes in February, when we know we’ll be out of commission.”
That story sounded a lot like Mulehead’s of late, but Russell says the Gourds still have more music to write and record. “Blood of the Ram,” he said, is a return to Gourd’s style found in “Dem’s Good Beeble,” their debut record.
“We recorded it at home, with some fairly inexpensive equipment, without any real technical know-how,” he said. “We did it so our manager could shop some demos to see if there was a bigger and better record label out there for us. But then the demos sounded pretty good. We thought we could just make the record ourselves, and somewhere along the way we decided that’s what we wanted to do, that we didn’t want a bigger label.”
Instead, Red Eye Distribution, just down the road in North Carolina from the Gourds’ old label, Sugar Hill, is handling distribution. The indie scene suits Russell, he said.
“These are young guys, cool guys, aggressive, smart,” he said. “They dig the music, they like us, it’s fun for them. They even fed us, and we rarely get fed by anybody. We drank a lot of beer. It was cool.”
It’s hard for the casual listener to define the Gourds’ sound. In concert, Russell admits, it’s easy to mistake the Gourds for a drunken, hillbilly stomp band. The new CD reflects influences of ’70s soul.
“There is a little bit of risk there, but if you love it, you should do it, and I think we succeeded pretty well,” Russell said. “The songs may be workmanlike at times, but they are good.”
So, if you have yet to see a Gourds show, look for something that is “spiritually uplifting,” Russell said. “I think that’s what people want to have in a bar, on a Saturday night. They are tired of working, dealing with their spouses. A lot of people want to go out and blow off some steam. Yeah, you may see us stomping around, but I think if you look closely there is something deeper going on.”
Some call Jay Farrar the father of modern alt-country because of his creation of seminal band Uncle Tupelo in the ’80s, which spun off in the mid-’90s into Farrar’s SonVolt and Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco.
Farrar, who plays Thursday, Dec. 2, at Sticky Fingerz, can no longer be pigeon-holed into simply the “alt-country” genre, however, as his three solo recordings since disbanding SonVolt demonstrate. His 2003 work, “Terroir Blues,” was inspired by the Beatles’ “Revolver” album, incorporating tape manipulation and backtracks.
There were plans to reunite the original SonVolt lineup (Dave Boquist, Jim Boquist and Mike Heidorn) for a record this year, but money disputes led to the idea being nixed, according to Farrar’s publicist. According to Farrar’s website, a SonVolt album is in the works now, but the band will include Brad Rice on guitar, Andrew Duplantis on bass, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and Dave Bryson on drums.
Tickets for Thursday’s show are $12 at the door. Anders Parker opens at 9:30 p.m.
Although he’s best known as vocalist and mandolin player in Colorado-based progressive bluegrass band Leftover Salmon, Drew Emmitt has joined his bandmates in taking a year off and is engaging in solo gigs. His Drew Emmitt Band comes to Juanita’s on Thursday, Dec. 2.
Emmitt is not merely a mandolinist; he is also prolific on the fiddle and electric guitar, as he shows in his recent solo album, “Freedom Ride,” also the name of the tour. His band consists of bassist Greg Garrison, multi-instrumentalist Matt Flinner and guitarist Ross Martin.
Emmitt’s show starts at 9 p.m.; tickets are $15.
Amy Brawner contributed to this report.
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