The Gourds

Noble Creatures

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Prolific Austin, TX hillbilly scholars the Gourds' eighth full-length release is the veteran group's most relaxed since 2000s excellent Bolsa de Agua. Noble Creatures, a title gleaned from the Beach Boys-kissed "Gyroscopic," a classic Jimmy Smith rumination on everything from Ulysses to bottle-nose dolphins that ends with the line "Only in horniness will we prevail," holds its magnifying glass up to life in southwest with the usual backwoods elegance, beer hall poetry, and sharp, border town nomenclature, but there is a new sense of maturity here that while present on previous releases, makes a keen impression from the very moment of departure. Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell's bubbly opener "How Will You Shine" sets the pace with a full horn section and a winning refrain of "Sit down with your woman/Tell her the way that you feel" that in anybody else's hands would sound coy. Smith follows with the Band-inspired "Kicks in the Sun," the ballsy "A Few Extra Kilos," and the typically irreverent "Spivey," but this is Russell's album. "Promenade," "Moon Gone Down," "Last Letter," and "Steeple Full of Swallows" are four of the finest songs he's ever put to tape, and like all good ballads they soar on melody, speak the truth, be it amiable or devastating and leave the listener clamoring for a second spin. Noble Creatures ranks high among the group's deepening catalog, and its top-notch production could land it in some laps that the band's previous recordings may have missed. It's also a fitting description of these off-center country bards, and would prove apt if they ever considered a name change.

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