The Gourds are one of those bands that are inevitably tagged with the "alternative country" label. But the truth is this ragged but righteous Austin-based band makes most of the groups associated with that genre seem awfully tame, even refined, by comparison.

On the very rough-hewn "Ghosts of Hallelujah," the Gourds more resemble an out of step string band -- irreverent, irrelevant and, now and then, more than a little irritable. With its weird tales, odd imagery and jarring allusions, the album takes some getting used to, but it isn't long before several songs exert a peculiar charm, thanks in part to a loosely stitched patchwork of guitars, mandolin, accordion, banjo and percussion. Suffice it to say, these guys sometimes make Wilco sound like a string quartet.

There's a price to pay for such willfulness, though. It isn't easy following the curious stream of words coursing through "County Orange," "Ladies Choice" and several other songs. The flatly intoned lyrics often get lost in the mix, leaving us to guess what these guys are up to. Somehow, though, you get the feeling the Gourds wouldn't have it any other way.

Appearing Friday at IOTA with Mike Errico. To hear a free Sound Bite from the Gourds, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)