By Chad Swiatecki
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 7, 2013
What a total joy it was to see and hear Kevin Russell shimmy under his high-flying freak flag on Sunday at the BMI Stage. Our man Corcoran stated in the leadup to Austin City Limits Festival that there’s no better songwriter in Austin than Russell, who made his name in The Gourds but has taken pretty much full time to leading his new band that goes by Shinyribs. After the show Russell put on for a sizable and happily dancing crowd, there’s not much point in arguing that fact.
Russell’s songs benefit from a combination of vivid characters, sly but rarely precious wordplay and a tour through a variety of roots and southern musical styles that Russell has become master-level at over the years. Accompanied by drums, bass and keys, he kicked off with the swinging boogie rock of "Bolshevik Sugarcane" from his new album "Gulf Coast Museum."
From there it was on to covers like Willie Nelson’s "Me And Paul" and traditionals like "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" and "Hangman" that benefited from Russell’s reverential takes and still conveyed his try-anything personality. This is, after all, the guy whose once primary band got its big break with a bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg’s "Gin And Juice" and who in recent years has recast rapper T-Payne’s "Buy You A Drank" as a sort of country confessional.
So nothing is out of bounds with this guy who’s always out for laugh. That’s likely partly why Russell claimed to to have worked with his band to invent a whole new musical genre – "country disco, or Crisco" – to play at the festival Sunday. That was a fib. He’s been using that line on crowds for years but it set up the solid dance beat of "Songs Of Lime Juice & Despair" and cast the impressionistic, almost free verse lyrics in a humorous light. Along with most other things he tries musically, it’s what Russell does best.