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Kevin Russell already has one band of note in the shape of The Gourds, longtime favourites of the Americana scene. It seems his side project, Shinyribs, could be even bigger news on the back of their second album with its infectious blend of Gulf Coast sounds and sweet soul music. The soul comes courtesy of Russell’s extraordinary voice, which combines that soulful feel swelling from within with a relish for drawing out the sound of a word whilst frequently eliding it smoothly into the next one. He has such a fit for soul music that it’s no surprise that he closes the album with a cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now; on this he gets some sweet accompaniment from Brandy Zdan on harmony vocals – it’s just their voices and Russell’s ukulele playing. The result is more personal and intimate than the polished melodrama of the original though I have to say it doesn’t quite come off for my money – maybe not quite personally felt enough to really convince.
Elsewhere though, the eight original songs – “tall tales from Texas”, he calls them – are full of fun, a smorgasbord of sounds that sometimes puts me in mind of Dr John, for one, and Little Feat for another, but never actually sounds quite like anyone else. There’s a loose-but-tight groove going on as if everybody in the band has license to take things where they please, though in truth they’re all dancing to the tune laid down by the man at the centre of things, his voice powerful enough to drive through the musical bedlam of Bolshevik Sugarcane and characterful enough to convey his sly good humour.
The opening track, Sweeter Than The Scars, is probably the best synthesis of all the good things on this album: a playful, bouncy rhythm puts a smile on your face whilst Russell’s laid-back vocal slips into sweetly soulful drawn out notes at the end of each line. Sally Allen’s harmonizing vocals are soft and easy while the old ukulele sounds like the instrument for all seasons. It’s a fine band he has here: Keith Langford on drums, Winfield Cheek on keys and Jeff Brown on bass are capable of conjuring up whatever is asked of them and, just for example, that opening song is bookended by harder edged sections serving as intro and outro . The band slip from one mode to the other as easily as breathing and, as if that wasn’t enough, sound like a great soul band on my favourite track, the wonderful Sweet Potato. The understated blue mood they produce here is really beautiful, as good an accompaniment to Russell’s pure soul vocal as you could wish for.
There’s something a bit scattergun about Gulf Coast Museum as it jumps around in style and that maybe makes it a little difficult to latch onto what’s going on. I really connected with it when I was on a long road trip one day and got a chance to relish all the imaginary scenes that Russell’s fertile imagination was taking me to. He’s the sort of writer and performer that, once you’ve “got” him, will keep you coming back for more, in whatever guise he’s appearing.
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