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The Gourds

Ghosts Of Hallelujah

Munich

It's a remarkable thing to watch a band rise above the confines of their genre and become something more -- something richer while at the same time less definable. On Ghosts of Hallelujah , the Gourds become simply a band. Not an "alt country" or "bluegrass" or "rock and roll" band, just a band. A great damn band, by the way. Traces of American music history are used as frameworks - "County Orange" builds upon the New Orleans classic "Junco Partner," but in ways not readily apparent. The band's interest in urban culture (shown on last years "Gin and Juice" reconstruction on GoGitYerShineBox ) is here in "Gangsta Lean," which is one man's perspective on the East Coast/West Coast madness. Jimmy Smith rewrites Bowie's "Jean Genie" with "Bean Bowl," matching what they did to "Ziggy Stardust" on Shine Box . The Gourds play music so effortlessly, with such assurance that they bring to mind one group more than any other -- the Band. In fact, Kevin Russell is a dead ringer for Levon Helm, and as a unit, the band moves as a single force to a common end, much like Robertson and company did all those years ago. This time around features some new faces, including Max Johnson -- the multi-instrumentalist who appeared on Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne and Wilco's A.M. , who adds everything but the kitchen sink. Forget your prejudices against mandolins, banjos, and country folk and pick up this record -- what starts out as a stranger will end up the night as a friend.

--James Mann