Kevin Russell is no stranger to our stage. The leader of Shinyribs last hit Austin City Limits in 2007 while a member of Austin’s beloved Gourds. Since that group’s breakup, Russell has taken his vision of roots rock in a more soulful, danceable and theatrical direction with Shinyribs. Four albums and countless live performances later, he and the band finally came back home for an ACL taping that was a celebration of all things Shiny, livestreamed worldwide in all its glory. Livestream viewer Brenda Walker raved of the riotous East Texas frontman, “Kevin really IS the Pavarotti of the Pineywoods” and Priscilla Promises chimed in “U in Austin bAaBeE.”
Introduced by hype man Trey Worth as “the Shakespeare of swamp pop” and “the shiniest man in show business,” patriarch Kevin Russell took the stage to brag about being “Country Cool,” allowing each member to show off his instrument during this slice of soul pop. The swamp to which Worth alluded earlier bubbled up in “Don’t Leave It a Lie,” a muddy groove accompanied by the Riblets, a trio of female dancers acting as Russell’s own Ikettes. Wielding a mean ukulele, Russell indulged in some call-and-response with ace backup vocalists Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee for the tropical soul of “I Got Your Medicine,” the title track to the band’s fourth and latest LP. The ‘ribs gleefully blended swamp rock, funk, c&w and yodeling for the epic “Song of Lime Juice & Despair,” complete with a Riblets ‘n’ Russell dance routine. The band then pulled out an inspired cover of David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” set to a double-timed rhythm (borrowed from the Drifters’ “On Broadway”) that allowed Russell to indulge in vocalese lifted from various R&B hits.
Russell took the mood from party-hearty to wistful by dedicating the slow-burn soul song “Who Built The Moon” to much beloved local bassist George Reiff, recently passed from cancer. The group then dropped in for a quick New Orleans visit, covering Allen Toussaint’s finger-popping R&B tune “A Certain Girl,” first recorded in 1961 by Ernie K-Doe and boasting cracking solos from Russell, keyboardist Winfield Cheek, saxist Mark Wilson and trumpeter Tiger Anaya. Doubling as a possible name for Shinyribs’ musical gumbo, “Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul” followed, reminiscent of key Russell influence Doug Sahm. Continuing his musical tour of Texas, Russell guided the band to the Lone Star/Louisiana border for the soulful “Take Me Lake Charles.” After the frisky pop and roll of “Walt Disney,” Russell dug deep for “I Gave Up All I Had,” a powerful cover from the catalogue of the late soul man Ted Hawkins.
While Russell crawled back up from the floor, bassist Jeff Brown and drummer Keith Langford (a fellow ex-Gourd) started up a roiling groove that signalled the frisky funk of “Baby, What’s Wrong?” which also included a mock fight between Russell and the Riblets. Shinyribs concluded the main set with the jungle pop of “Poor People’s Store,” which generated the band’s traditional conga line on the floor – joined, of course, by Russell himself. The audience couldn’t let the night end just yet, though. The band came back for an encore, starting with a song “about my favorite root vegetable.” The ballad “Sweet Potato” doubled as an excuse to introduce the band, Russell noting each member’s root veggie preference rather than his or her hometown. Russell crawled to the edge of the stage and back in mock fatigue, before a Riblet draped a sparkling robe over his shoulders—what Russell called “a luminous cloak”—his very own technicolor dreamcoat with light-up lining in ever-changing colors. As the song drifted wistfully to an end, Russell picked up his guitar, cranked up the volume and grunged his way into the rock ‘n’ soul of “East TX Rust,” the robe making him look like a glam rock Jawa. “Let’s get it on now!” he demanded as he put his axe through its paces, and there wasn’t a soul in the crowd who would disagree. The song ended in a riot of guitar, horns and an audience going wild. It was a fantastic show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 43 on your local PBS station.