Saturday, September 3, 2022

The Gourds and All The Labor: A Film, a Song, and a Few Thoughts

This is a revived version of a Line Out post about Doug Hawes-Davis's 2013 Gourds documentary, All the Labor (these posts were purged from the internet after The Stranger pulled the plug on their music blog).

Film/TV Dec 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

The Gourds and All the Labor: A Film, a Song, and a Few Thoughts

  • Photo by MVD Entertainment Group
I recently watched All the Labor, a documentary about Austin quintet the Gourds, and now I can't get "Dying of the Pines" out of my head (it appears on their 1997 debut, Dem's Good Beeble).

I've always liked the song, which I recognize from KEXP airplay, but I'd never given it much thought before. There's something about hearing a song in context, though—live in concert or on a soundtrack—that can turn like into love, and that's what happened in my case.

I think it's also because I'm leaving Seattle for a few days, so I was struck by the lyrics, which touch on air travel. That said, "If you see me on an airplane," you don't need to "get out of my way." Well, not unless you're allergic to cats as I'm taking mine on her first plane trip (I don't think she'll enjoy it as much as catnip).

  • Sugarhill Records
In Doug Hawes-Davis's film, which he made with Fugazi's Brendan Canty—a music documentary veteran—the band performs the song live, but guitarist Kevin Russell, who shares songwriting duties with bassist Jimmy Smith, also performs an acoustic version in one of the extra features (among 109 minutes of additional material). I think I prefer his solo rendition, and if I ever get the chance to see the Gourds live, I doubt I'll be able to resist singing along with the "hey, hey" part.

Other things I learned from the documentary: multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston played with several other bands, including Freakwater and Wilco, before making a home with the Gourds. He's the son of Austin musician "Dollar" Bill Johnston, but viewers are more likely to be familiar with his older sister, Michelle Shocked (in light of recent events, it's probably to their benefit that she uses a stage name).

I've never been much of an alt-country/roots rock/Americana fan, but every once in a while, I hear something that I like. A lot. And "Dying of the Pines" definitely fits that bill. I guess it helps that the Gourds are harder to classify than many of their peers, since they work garage rock, Tex Mex, and other musical styles into their sound.

In the film, which alternates between their early days and more recent years, they travel to the late Levon Helm's Woodstock studio, The Barn, to record their 2011 album, Old Mad Joy, with former Dylan sideman Larry Campbell. It wasn't until that point that I realized just how much they recall Helm's former outfit, the Band. In my mind's ear, as it were, I can even hear Helm covering "Dying of the Pines." And I wish he had.

All the Labor is out now on High Plains Films. Though 2014 marks the band's 20th anniversary, the Gourds are on a hiatus of an indeterminate length.

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