melons: the Gourds at the Linda.
Linda, Aug. 27
God doesn’t make bands like the Gourds much anymore. You know,
the sort of impromptu (well, at least back in 1994) brotherhood
gang of twangers who you just know have shared hundreds of
poker, dominoes, and billiards games, smoked many a pack and
barbecued many a slab together, probably even got in a couple
of fights for and against each other. Which was one of the
strange things about last week’s Gourds show at the Linda:
With a band of hyperliterate, alt-country rockers like the
Gourds in your midst, you expected at least some surreptitious
whiskey sipping, but the only beer guzzlers in this heretofore
dry establishment were on the stage, for the Gourd guys have
earned the right to drink where and when they want to.
As far as sheer sound, concept and attitude, what we’ve got
here is the Band in their prime fronted by Americana autodidacts
who love George Jones and Townes Van Zandt—and most likely
Black Flag and the Minutemen. Bassist and co-leader Jimmy
Smith is the band’s Mike Watt, all trucker cap and offhand
knowledge about what it means if you dream about losing your
teeth (“It symbolizes loss of control,” according to Smith,
by way of Jung).
The other chief songwriter is rural gentleman-scholar Kevin
Russell, he of the thousand quotable lyrics. Dig the poetry
from the “Cripple Creek”-esque set opener “Moon Gone Down”:
“Built me a boat on a rainy day/Waiting for my ship to sail/Held
my thumb up to the moon/Look like I lost my fingernail.” The
Austin, Texas, boys have a deep catalog to pull from, and
they chose to pick a little from each of their eight full-lengths,
adding up to more than 25 tunes when all was said and done.
While they are still one of the most “country” of alt-country
acts (Russell’s drawl has a lot to do with that), they can
do plenty else: the a cappella southern-gospel of “God’s House”;
the power-pop-informed “Gyroscope”; the swirling zydeco of
“Cranky Mulatto,” a showcase for the accordion of utility
player Claude Bernard and the fiddle of storied multi-instrumentalist
Max “ex-Uncle Tupelo” Johnston.
Another thing that separates the Gourds from their peers is
their disregard for the guitar solo (in contrast, critically
worshipped alt-country group Drive-By Truckers are a veritable
Skynyrd tribute band). This allows plenty of breathing room
for Johnston and Russell’s reams of Celtic-infused mandolin
and the tuba-like bass bottom of Smith’s Fender Precision.
And room to ponder lyric gems like “Ladies Choice,” a longtime
favorite of mine that describes in the slow motion of hindsight
the narrator’s spill off his Schwinn bicycle, in love with
a girl while his head is about to crack, his brain all afloat
and anesthetized with the chemicals of love.
The Gourds win you over with their poetic gumption and natural
need to rock, their beer-belly yowling, and their questions
about toothache dreams.
MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Aug. 29
If you’re going to make up a word and use it as your band
name, you damn well better be able to back it up. Flutterbox
have done this, and more. The duo of singer Janine Nichols
and bass guitarist Neill C. Furio originally coined the term
as a moniker for the vintage effects-box Furio uses to create
parallel and enhanced musical sounds; adopting it for their
own name was an apt choice. The word itself is playful and
layered in ways that mirror their unique and inviting songs:
The first half of the compound word reflects movement, with
birdlike darting, wings in motion; the second is solid and
stationary, a defined space with one side enclosing a finite
volume, the other standing as the edge of infinity.
This New York City-based pair have been together for only
a couple years, and their appearance at MASS MoCA last Friday
marked their area debut. Nichols and Furio were a study in
visual contrasts, she looking like a silver-haired Annie Hall,
he like a mod-shirted Jeff Beck. What Flutterbox have created
straddles genres with the confidence of seasoned travelers.
Furio’s songs, as sung by Nichols, create a breadth of character
enriched by the strength of the two vantage points. It can
come as a surprise that the words being sung were not her
own, so completely did she inhabit them. The songs were poetic
reveries on flight, dreams, love, hope, time, and wonder.
Even elements of loss, longing and goodbyes were given a warm
glow. Once you hear a song like “Whoops Wrong Daisy,” it’s
hard to recall that you’ve had decades of life before it came
Without a hint of grandstanding, Nichols gently let her idiosyncratic
sense of time and space elevate everything she sang. Meanwhile,
Furio brought the sensibilities of a guitarist to his bass
playing, using a capo, fuzz and other effects to provide both
a rhythmic foundation and melodic flourishes. The sheltered
outdoor setting was ideal for the sonics being created on
stage. Early on, crickets in the surrounding night became
a part of the musical atmosphere. Later, sirens wailed down
the road, their notes in the same key as the song being played—and
Furio gave them room before returning to the verse at hand.
Finally, rain began to fall, bouncing off the paved surfaces
and percussing on the fabric coverings overhead.
Fluttterbox’s first CD is just out, and there’s an electricity
in hearing something this good near its beginnings. The duo’s
between-song patter hasn’t found a natural ease yet, but more
time on the road will bring that into focus as well. Such
a sympathetically matched pair is hard to find.