Texas Band Shinyribs Features Collective Of Kevin Russell’s Swampadelic Poetry
Tell me if you’ve heard this one: A musician, an episcopal priest and an attorney are at lunch discussing a potential lawsuit against a preacher for malpractice after a woman said she died and went to heaven but was rejected entrance on the grounds that she had followed bad advice from her preacher. The woman is so upset, she offers to finance the musician’s first record if he can help her find a lawyer to go after the priest.
If you thought that was a joke and were waiting on a punchline, keep waiting. It’s actually the real-life tale of how Kevin Russell – the founder and former frontman of the popular alt-country band The Gourds – named is newest band, Shinyribs (pronounced Shy-nee-ribs).
“I figured any decent spiritual lawsuit should begin in earnest with a BBQ lunch,” said Russell. “When the plate of ribs came my episcopal friend put’em down on the table and said,’try these ribs.’”
The attorney, according to Russell, referred to the ribs as “shiny ribs” – a take on Chinese ribs and one of the singer-songwriter’s favorite.
“Just then a nice lady sitting next to us leaned over and asked me in the thickest, slowest, smokey voice how she could get some shiny ribs,” he added. “I said without hesitation, ‘this Saturday night I am playing in Austin.”
If you were wondering about the lawsuit – it was brought and unceremoniously thrown out. Go figure. But Russell picked up a monthly gig in Houston’s Under The Volcano to finance his first record, playing as, you guessed it – Shinyribs.
Russell is a longtime music fixture. His prior band The Gourds was well known in the Gulf South as well as throughout the alt-country scene. Like many popular acts, they were one of those bands that fans would often say you had to see live to appreciate. And ironically, despite an impressive collection of recorded originals, the most popular Gourds song was one they did not write – a rather remarkable cover of Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice” (which is arguably better than the original).
In 2013, however, The Gourds announced a hiatus and Shinyribs became Russell’s primary musical outlet.
“Even great things must come to an end,” he said. “This Shinyribs thing, I had a hunch, just might be my ticket to a new era in my merry way. Indeed it was. But, it took some years to grow it from the sapling that it was at that point.”
Russell initially played solo shows, regularly trekking from his home in Austin to Houston in heavy traffic.
“I’d play a couple hours, then came the gripping and grinning to get out of there,” he recalled. “I did it all myself, selling merch, breaking down gear, loading. Then by 11pm, usually I’d head back to Austin and get home about 2am. Then get up 7am to get the kids to school.”
With the monotony of the drive and the late hours, one night on the way home Russell “lost time behind the wheel,” as he puts it – which shook him up. And that’s when he decided he would need someone to ride with him were he to continue to build Shinyribs. So he called his pal “Texas” Mike Stewart to join him on percussion and bass to begin fleshing out a broader sound for the band.
Russell continued to fill out the band’s lineup, adding Winfield Cheek on keyboards, Jeff Brown on bass and Keith Langford on drums for Shinyribs’ first two records. By the third record, The Tijuana Trainwreck Horns joined and the Shiny Soul Sisters were added in 2014. At the same time he was playing solo, opening shows up for The Gourds, which some found odd – Russell opening for Russell. All the while, his heart and mind was centered on Shinyribs – tinkering, blending, mashing each piece into his symphonic “dream come true” of “Swampadelic” music inspired by honkytonk blues, poetry, funk groove, surrealist art and more.
“My music career has been a long journey of combining musical found objects,” said Russell. “I love to smash odd things together like junk sculptures I saw in the galleries and museums when I was young. I have an equal love of the junker and the artist. Lyrically the images and emotion that spin out of combining words that literally are incongruous or narratives that are at once common yet disturbing inspire me.
That found object spirit – loving the junker and artist – is evident in the collection of Russell’s gulf coast experiences comprising Shinyribs. Indeed, you can almost feel the gulf south sweat as it pours from lyrics, and diverse rhythms and melodies of songs like “Take Me Lake Charles,” “I Don’t Give a S**t” or “Hoods of Cars” and “Crazy Lonely” off the band’s new record, Fog & Bling.
“A lot of the great music of southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas inspires me,” he said. “Poetry I was taught in Shreveport by a couple of true street poets, George Burton III and David ‘Love’ Lewis, two men that truly lived for their art. No compromise. No Bullsh*t. I only hope to live up to their standards.”