The Gourds: Haymaker 

The opening track off The Gourds' latest album, Haymaker, has everything a hearty welcome-back should. It also has just enough of the band's South Austin alchemy to introduce new listeners to its particular brand of twang-rock.

On "Country Love," Kev Russell follows his opening line of "Wake up, we're going to the country," with the final, "We'll watch the stars dancing with the satellite." The Gourds have always been a band intent on melding opposites, pastoral with urban, roots music with hard rock, the hulk-of-metal satellite with the 1,000-year-old stars.

Haymaker is no exception, though its first half is another journey away from the band's standard sound. Russell wanders way past rockabilly on "The Way You Can Get," abandoning his big-bellied twang for a Buddy Holly-ish rock boogie. And "Valentine" is nothing if not a straight forward country ballad, without the usual wink-and-nod that The Gourds like to throw in otherwise button-up genre songs.

No one would fault longtime Gourd fans if, after listening to the first half of Haymaker, they come away a little confused. Just where exactly is the band's own, precocious weirdness? The quick answer: the record's second half.

From an organ-heavy "Luddite," a hard-driving song sung in the voice of one of Ned Lud's followers, to "Tex-Mex Mile," a song that can only be described as a blues-based love song to a particular South Austin weed spot, the closing half of Haymaker is the perfect balance to its predecessor. Alchemy achieved.

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