The Gourds

Haymaker!

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There are few bands that can successfully (as in without a hint of clich├ęd, deep south treacle) open a record with the line "Wake up! We're going to the country," but Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell's ode to the simple (carnal) life splits the difference between hillbilly rapture and secular joy with workmanlike precision, a skill that the Gourds have been applying to their signature brand of idiosyncratic honky tonk for over a decade. The band's ninth album (and second for "smart pop" stronghold Yep Roc Records) continues the Austin-based ensemble's penchant for offbeat Southern minutia and melodious, after-hours juke joint revelry, but despite boasting production values that rival anything before it, Haymaker! feels less like the blow to the face that its title implies and more like a last quick rummage through the basement before the garage sale starts -- to be fair, the band has put out on average an album a year since the late '90s, and even a mediocre Gourds record outshines the majority of Americana/alternative country-rock releases in a given year. Russell provides most of the record's highlights, preaching up a tornado of goodness on "The Way You Can Get," hittin' the town with "Roaches in the ashes/truck jamming "Limelight"/Look like it's gonna be just me and Geddy Lee tonight" on the near-perfect "Shreveport," and rallying the troops on the aforementioned "Country Love," but its' not enough to save Haymaker! from being the most musically unadventurous of the band's highly prolific career, despite the fact that "Back of my head smells like a kick drum" from Jimmy Smith's "Fossil Contender" may be the best lyric of 2009.

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