The Gourds don't fit neatly into any categories of style. Their music may be rooted in country — with drawled-out vocals and banjos, fiddles and mandolins prominent — but with generous helpings of gospel, poetry, rock 'n' roll, soul and weed and whiskey ladled on top, their sound is something unto itself when it issues out of your speakers.
Vocalist, songwriter, guitarist and mandolin player Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell doesn't care what you call it, though by phone earlier this week from his home in Austin, Texas, he admitted to being fond of “rag and bone music” (he's a big fan of Yeats' “The Circus Animals' Desertion”). He'll let others debate the semantics of genre names like alt-country, Americana and roots rock.
“Everyone's trying to promote a big expansive genre of music. If we get lumped into it, that's fine. I'm just in the game of trying to expose my music to as many people as possible.”
He's been successful with an ever-widening number. For nearly 15 years, the Gourds have been not just the most beloved band in one of the country's biggest music towns, but a strong and steady presence all over the country. Friday's concert at Juanita's marks the umpteenth time the band's played Little Rock (Russell knows us way back to our Gunbunnies, Doctors for Bob heyday). But it might be their last show here for a bit.
“We're at the end of a cycle,” he explains. “We're looking at where we've been and what we've done and taking inventory. I've been married the same number of years the band has existed. Like any marriage, being in a band changes. If you don't consider it and make changes, it will languish. You'll get into a rut.
“We're playing great shows and everyone's in a good place, but we don't have enough time to invest in our creative side because we're always working and when we're not working we're recharging with our families.”
If you caught the band back in January when it first came to town behind its ninth album, “Haymaker!” don't expect a retread.
“Without naming names, we've got a lot of friends in the business who do the same show over and over, even down to the banter between songs. In this age, if we repeat anything, we hear it from our fans.”
It's a rabid base that doesn't see a problem with poetry in party music, of levity and literate songwriting commingling (Russell bristles at the idea that his lyrics are “oddball,” as they're often termed; “Poetry's not a dirty word for me,” he says).
It's a base of all stripes, as Russell has speculated, tongue-firmly-in-cheek: “[They are] hyper-literate, passionate humanists swimming in a pool of lager and lust, covered in a lonesome crust. They are city mice and country mice who like their smoke and spice and their beer on ice, hedonistic foodies, esoteric partiers, paranoid pilgrims, hubristic Trotskyite gnostics, Cartesian alcoholic minimalists, auto-erotic constitutionalists and other natural nonconformists of all shapes and sizes.”