The Gourds have been relentlessly spewing up quality records that challenge the conventions of both country and pop music with equal parts earnestness and irreverence for over a decade. Bandleaders Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith write hyper-literate songs that challenge even the most learned grad student while retaining enough "good old boy" idioms to placate the piss-drunk yahoo tapping his mirrored shades against the end of the bar. Their eighth full-length album, Heavy Ornamentals, doesn't stray far from the "juke joint in Samuel Clemens' brain" aesthetic that drove career highs like Stadium Blitzer and Ghosts of Hallelujah into alternative country hearts around the world. Recorded all analog in order to capture every note -- mistakes are left in to add to the authenticity -- Ornamentals is both their truest and most raw release in some time. Russell provides his usual mix of heartfelt Texas poetry -- try the achingly gorgeous "Our Patriarch" -- while Smith remains the well-read deviant opining on everything from gassy roommates to a local forecaster -- "Do you think it rains when my weather girl cries/I sh*t you not it's softball size." The Gourds are peerless avatars of pop culture, referencing everything from Schoolhouse Rock! ("Decline-O-Meter") to Star Trek ("Pick and Roll") -- in the latter, Smith announces, "Hey, your Romulan ale is flat," then manages to work in a reference to original Catwoman Eartha Kitt and an Empire Strike Back quote ("I thought they smelled bad on the outside"). By now, anyone who boarded the train with 1997's Dem's Good Beeble has a pretty high tolerance for the band's many eccentricities, and will likely give Heavy Ornamentals the two or three spins it requires to permeate their own gourds, but for those just getting on, a trip back in time may better prepare them for the wild ride ahead.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger