Old Mad Joy counts as the 10th studio album by the Austin, Texas, band The Gourds. Recorded at Levon Helm's barn, Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Black Crowes) produced this collection. The Gourds are Kevin Russell (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Jimmy Smith (vocals, bass, guitar), Claude Bernard (accordion, guitar, vocals) and Keith Langford (drums).
Between Helm's Woodstock barn, and Campbell's musical insight, the Gourds certainly retain the crisp, clear sonic qualities of The Band on certain tunes, but this group is no one-trick pony. The Gourds create a cohesive sound on this collection.
Larry Campbell told Austin 360 this about Old Mad Joy: "It was different from anything I've ever heard. I heard elements of country music, folk music, rock 'n' roll, punk music, those raw elements in what they were doing, and combining stuff like that has always been attractive to me." Kevin Russell revealed how Campbell's direction allowed each group member to focus on his own responsibility:
"Recording on our own, it's tricky because we still look like ourselves when we step into those dictator shoes, but it was nice to not have to do that. We could just relax, play and be part of the band, and it came through in the performances. Recording on our own, it's tricky because we still look like ourselves when we step into those dictator shoes, but it was nice to not have to do that. We could just relax, play and be part of the band, and it came through in the performances."
A Louisiana shuffle titled "I Want It So Bad" opens Old Mad Joy, which sounds like a cross between Doug Sahm and Los Lobos. "Drop The Charges" shifts into a higher gear where the group steps on the rhythmic pedal. An acoustic number, "Two Sparrows", conjures The Band during their Northern Lights-Southern Cross era. Within the first three tracks, the Gourds create a variegated sound. "Drop What I'm Doing" emerges as a good time rocker that almost gives a nod and a wink to The Faces.
"Haunted" injects country and rockabilly into the mix with controlled abandon. "Melchert" contains grains of a late 60s English rock, but echos of Appalachia float in the composition like woodsmoke in the mountains. "Ink And Grief" slows the tempo a bit, and spins a storyteller's yarn packaged in a melodic delivery with colors of mandolins, fiddles and pedal steel. "Peppermint City" emerges as a tongue-in-cheek ditty that emits an infectious groove and clever songwriting.
"Marginalized" showcases lyrical dexterity married to a melodic hook that verifies the ensemble's subtle musical mastery. The redemptive "Eyes Of A Child" ranks as one of the album's strongest tracks. "Your Benefit" closes the disc with a mercurial rocker. Old Mad Joy finds The Gourds somewhere out on Highway 61...