For members of The Gougers, who each sport a tattoo of the band’s bird-and-broken-heart logo, it is more important that audiences hear the artful and profound lyrics of the songs created by the team of singer-writer-instrumentalists Shane Walker and Jamie Wilson — vivid imagery of human lives, subtle social comment, truth — than be concerned with what sort of genre the band’s music fits into.
That’s because The Gougers’ sound takes in most genres, constantly moving in and out of country, rock, folk, roots, or mixing them up, as Walker and Wilson experiment and evolve as songwriters whose words stay with listeners and make them think. Dreamy ballad, up-tempo urban anthem: They’re playing with rhythm and instrumental effects, too, along the lines of influences and music mavericks Ryan Adams, Emmylou Harris and Bright Eyes and premier musical partners David Rawlings and Gillian Welch.
Formerly as The Sidehill Gougers, the four-piece Americana band contributed to such albums as Palo Duro Records’ TEXAS UNPLUGGED: VOL. 2 (2006) — an example of the neo-traditional porch-and-parlor, mandolin-and-fiddle facet of its music, the tender “One Tiny Sin” — and recorded RUNAWAY SCRAPE (2003), the band''s debut CD, and an EP, GONE TO SEED (2005), a harmonic and graceful collection of seven songs that intrigued fans and continue to mesmerize them.
Now the Sidehill has been dropped, a drummer has been added, and there’s been a switch to electric guitar and bass. The outstanding vocals of Walker and Wilson wrap around a ringing guitar, sometimes a laidback one, a drum riff, echoes or reverb — and always a great lyric. Take, for instance, “Old Crow/Scarecrow,” which talks about boozing and ends with appropriate suddenness.
“You get tangled like a kite so you go out and hang the sheets
and blow hours off the clock like dandelion seeds
that float away as flowers just to come back up as weeds.
You live one day to wake up two days older.
Using Old Crow for a scarecrow to keep the birds away,
while you''re crushing out Old Golds in a plastic ashtray.”
That song’s on The Gougers’ latest album, A LONG DAY FOR THE WEATHERVANE, along with “Everybody Knows,” an excellent commentary on progress featuring Wilson’s pure tones, and “Manheim Station,” the working-man’s musical manual. Five songs on GONE TO SEED were re-recorded for WEATHERVANE, songs fans can’t get enough of, like “John Henry” and “It''ll Get Better,” which Walker and Wilson wrote via text messages and voice mail.
The Gougers is Shane Walker on vocals, guitar and harmonica; Jamie Wilson on vocals and acoustic guitar; Cody Foote on electric and upright bass; and John Ross Silva on drums and percussion, who kept his talents secret while he mastered the recording and then joined the band as it tours from Houston to Oklahoma City. Silva (with engineering credits for Dixie Chicks, Shawn Colvin, John Alagia and Lloyd Maines) had been a friend of the band and its incarnations for years, and it was he who brought in country-rocker-producer Keith Gattis, who oversaw the production.
The two Texas songwriters teamed up this way: Walker, the deep singer-songwriter who played drums and piano by age 4 (and later guitar), heard Wilson singing harmony in a cantina in College Station where together they attended Texas A&M and was blown away. Both had grown up in small towns (he from Crawford, she from Sealy) listening to good country music and soaking up influences from Bob Wills and Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen, both of their fathers, and even writer/philosopher Joseph Campbell. Walker was also absorbing the songwriting skills of high-caliber pistols the likes of Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt.
When the four put their talented heads together, what results is an eclectic blend of new music and lyrics refined to the basics — as stark yet as loaded with meaning as the band’s logo and band members’ tattoos: a crying bird ready to fly from its perch atop a broken heart.