Gourds | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Gourds 

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When Max Johnston, who'd already left Wilco to join Freakwater, moved to Austin in 1998 and threw in with the Gourds, it seemed like he'd made a decision between "alt" and "country." But just as it's an overstatement to insist that groups like Wilco are somehow avant-garde, it's an oversimplification to peg the Gourds as nothing more than an old-fashioned honky-tonk act. While they're hardly au courant in their inspirations--Jimmie Rodgers's clear, haunting voice and Tom T. Hall's taste for quirky characters; the Meters' New Orleans soul; and of course string-band and bluegrass music of all stripes--they rearrange these raw materials into fresh and inventive configurations. The quintet's eclecticism no doubt arises in part from the fact that they've split the songwriting duties three ways (Johnston, Kev Russell, and Jimmy Smith pitch in), but they're also open-minded about what makes a great tune. The lead track on 2001's Shinebox was a country-blues breakdown of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice"--but instead of sounding like a silly joke, it came across as an acknowledgment that, at least where self-medication is concerned, they have a fellow traveler in Snoop. The Gourds' most recent proper album, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig (Sugar Hill), came out in 2002, and given that their latest project was the sound track to a 2003 documentary about a beard-growing competition in Shamrock, Texas (Growin' a Beard, on Aspyr), what they'll play here is anybody's guess. Braam opens on Friday; Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel and Mike Nicolai open Saturday. $10 in advance, $12 day of show. Friday, June 4, 9 PM, and Saturday, June 5, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408 or 866-777-8932.

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