Even for a cantankerous band that has made it a special point across its two-decade career to do precisely whatever the hell it wants to, the Gourds reached a new high-water mark with their latest album. Released last year, Old Mad Joy (Vanguard) was recorded in an environment heavy with roots-rock mojo: Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, New York, under the auspices of longtime Bob Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell as producer. Even nine albums in — plus the Shinebox covers EP that spawned the Snoop Dogg-approved live favorite "Gin & Juice" — Old Mad Joy finds the Gourds at the top of their game, with some messy garage-rock hijinks ("Drop the Charges"), steel-kissed Sun Records rockabilly ("Haunted"), a rollicking Exile on Main Street romp ("Drop What I'm Doing"), stanky barnyard funk ("Peppermint City") and a poignant homage to "The Weight" that might make even Helm himself smile ("Two Sparrows"). Considering the Gourds often glimpsed the late Band drummer, who passed away this past April, grinning away during the sessions, it probably did.
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