The Gourds' third full-length, Ghosts of Hallelujah, finds them evolving their sound quite successfully with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston and new drummer Keith Langford. Both presences are immediately noticeable on the opening romp, "Up on High," where Langford's idiosyncratic drum riff leads the tune and Johnston's relaxed, secure fiddling supports Jimmy Smith's if-the-Pogues-were-from-Texas swagger. The songwriting of both Smith and Kevin Russell has more strength than ever before. Their trademark ability to articulate striking, lovely, and humorous emotions via turning the oddest cryptic and poetic phrases in rock & roll is present and abundant, as always. With Langford's confidence boost to the rhythm section and Johnston's proficiency on dobro, banjo, fiddle, and guitar, the Gourds immediately seize the chance to explore more complex arrangements, resulting in some their most inspired songs to date. Russell's honky tonk lurch "Ghosts of Hallelujah" and lovely "Flat Baritone" are standouts, showcasing a more streamlined approach, while Smith's trilogy of songs, "Bean Bowl," "My Time, Yer Time," and "Son of Bum" give the bizarre tendencies of the Gourds a fair workout. Claude Bernard shines all over the album, cooking up memorable melodies for consumption on accordion and mag organ (a toy organ thrown into a dumpster by Richard Buckner, then rescued and used here, according to the liner notes). His accordion work on tracks like "January 6" and "County Orange," as well as the previously mentioned trilogy, provide a low-key yet graceful propulsion to the entire album, moving it along without a single wasted note. The result is a great batch of first-rate songs held together with exceptional chemistry rarely achieved by a group of musicians, and what's even more significant is that this new chemistry and excitement were caught on tape.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory McIntosh