Shinyribs is Kev Russell, front man of the rootsy and durable Austin party band the Gourds. He got the nickname from a homeless woman whom he treated to some barbecue, and he began to develop a side band project under the Shinyribs name in a series of monthly shows around the Houston area, releasing an album, Well After Awhile, in 2010 and another one that should be ready for his appearance at the Ark on May 15 (see Nightspots).
The band’s basic combination of funky roots sounds with original, poetic lyrics will be familiar to those who like the Gourds–think Tom Waits having a good time at a party, or maybe CCR transplanted into the jam band era. While the Gourds covered Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” Shinyribs in concert offers a wry version of R. Kelly’s “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.” He has a beer-drinking anthem, “Country Cool,” with a charming buy-local component: “I don’t like giving my dollars to China for this plastic paradigm. But I’ll give ’em all to Mexico and Milwaukee twelve aluminum cans at a time.” “East TX Rust” includes this bit of verbally acrobatic pickup good humor: “Baby, baby, time’s a-wasting. If you’re a-fooling, I’m a-fading. I’m advocating a mutual grazing, a face-to-facing I’m advocating. I don’t have time for you to love me like a lawyer. I just want mine, I don’t care which one of us is wronger … Shake your bones, let’s get it on.”
With much of his own music Shinyribs goes into an odder and more personal zone, meditative yet fanciful and often humorous. He does several lovely gospel-flavored originals and a stark cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” “Poor People’s Store” summons a flea market where you can buy “some knock-off jeans with irregular seams, chairs of beans and some beauty creams, Christina Aguilera black mascara, corn tortillas and some brown aloe vera, some socks with flames, pills for your pain, razors infused with the essence of rain, a cigarette lighter that says ‘I’m a quitter,’ and a fish that sings, ‘take me to the river.'” His lyrics expand in imaginative chains that fill out the long, evolving soul-blues structures of the music in an unusual way.
Most imaginative of all is “Who Built the Moon?,” which Shinyribs calls “a bit of a conspiracy theory of a song” and which he introduces with a preposterous account of astronauts who, he claims, have endorsed its story of the moon intentionally built up in layers from an onion. Shinyribs’ live shows from SXSW have been legendary in recent years, and that may be where Ark programmers heard him and decided to give this wonderfully eccentric Texas artist a whirl in our town.