Kevin Russell is a big fan of sense of place. The founding member of the on-hiatus Gourds, and leader of the Austin band Shinyribs, is a believer in the idea that some recording studios contain a presence of the past, and that those studios that have been the delivery room for the birth of great recordings have held on to a mystique that can influence the sounds coming out. It’s what brought him to Sugar Hill Recording Studios in Houston to record “I Got Your Medicine,” the fourth release from Shinyribs that continues his sonic exploration of American country rock, New Orleans R&B, and funk.
Russell and Shinyribs will play in Durango next week at KSUT’s party in the park with The Iguanas.
“I’d been reading this book about this recording studio in Houston called Sugar Hill. It has no relation to the Sugar Hill Gang, or the bluegrass label, no relation to anything else called Sugar Hill,” said Russell. “It’s the oldest, continuously operating recording studio in the United States. Seventy-five years they’ve been recording music in this place. And a lot of the swamp pop stuff that I’ve really gotten into in the past few years was recorded there. Willie Nelson recorded the demo of “Night Life” there, early George Jones was recorded there, and The Sir Douglas Quintet did all their hits there. There is so much vibe in the place. We did it all live, old-school, live-to-tape. It has that sound that I was going for, and this band was just made for that. We’re a live band, and it was just the best way to record this band at that time.”
You have to go back to 2008 for the story of Shinyribs. It was his solo outing, a chance for Russell to play some things that wouldn’t have come to life with the Gourds. He’d play sets solo as Shinyribs around Texas and when out on the road with The Gourds. When they went on hiatus in 2013, a hiatus that has been labeled with the ambiguous term of “indefinite,” Shinyribs picked up steam. The Gourds had two main songwriters in Russell and Jimmy Smith. While that democracy of a band left a big, beautiful, and well-deserved mark on rock and roots music, Russell is digging on being the soul band leader and shot caller.
“It makes everything just a lot easier,” Russell said. “Everything from making decisions on things like when and where we’ll play and when I’m going to record, to where I’m going to record, and what songs we’re going to do. I’m really enjoying it.”
Russell has always had a funky way with his songwriting and delivery. Go back to earlier Gourds shows, and Shinyribs shows now, and his set lists have a cover or two that could be Marvin Gaye or The Meters or T.L.C. or R. Kelly. The full Shinyribs band is a vehicle where Russell is front-man, leader of the conga line and full-blown funky entertainer.
“With the Tijuana Train-Wreck horns and my two singers The Shiny Soul Sisters, these are the two elements I arrange and write for now,” said Russell. “It’s just incredible; it’s a dream band for me, to have those elements, those colors, the horns and two female singers. Its something you really have to experience live as well, the awesomeness of the way the horns and the singers move the air in front of the stage musically. It’s awesome.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.