Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Kaleidoscopic Country-rockers The Gourds continue defining their own unique musical genre with Noble Creatures. On Noble Creatures songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith continue their quirky ramble down the mountain, past dusty delta back porches and through the hanging moss of southwest Louisiana. In classic Gourds fashion the Mussel Shoals rekindling of "How Will You Shine" rides shotgun with the honky-soul of "Moon Gone Down," but on Noble Creatures it's Russell's ballads that mark the album as an epaulet on the shoulder of an already mighty career. "Promenade" soars with a from-the-gut tale of squandered happiness and courses with Danko-like emotion. In "Steeple Full of Swallows" the desolate yet hopeful bandy of banjo and guitar trickles along a delicate dream-song, cut by the acid of Russell's sharp yet tuneful holler. As relevant and irreverent as ever, The Gourds are Noble Creatures indeed.
Uncut (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]here's a restful, considered tone to standout ballads 'Promenade' and 'Last Letter'....It's genuinely irresistible stuff."
No Depression (p.96) - "NOBLE CREATURES moves with the greatest of ease through somber ballads, toe-tapping zydeco, hill country twang and swampy blues-rock."
Personnel: Max Johnston (vocals, guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle); Jimmy Smith (vocals, guitar); Ramsay Midwood (guitar); Keith Langford (harmonica, drums).
Audio Mixer: Chet Himes.
Recording information: Congress House; Industrial Oaks.
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. ~ James Christopher Monger