The sounds, images and themes of Shinyribs’ second album span 1,000 miles, from El Paso to New Orleans, with an emphasis on the eastern-most third of that long stretch of Interstate 10.
Kevin Russell, the band’s singer, songwriter and ringleader, planned to call the album “Lime Juice and Despair,” but it didn’t feel right. The artwork for the record already was completed when he came up with “Gulf Coast Museum,” a title that speaks to the sights, sounds, smells and sweltering culture that flanks Russell’s native Beaumont to the east and west. The record sounds like a road trip with the kind of companions who like to stop in each little town.
Russell had just discussed Gulf Coast music for a radio show when a cold front blew east through Austin, the band’s home base, and left behind a title that bundled some of the album’s themes.
“It got me to thinking about the spirit of places and how weather often feels like a spirit,” Russell said. “Maybe it’s something Native Americans felt, that spirit of the land. I’ve always had that feeling about places. Especially the Gulf Coast. It’s hard to explain to some people. On the surface, the area might look horrific to some people. Culturally, environmentally, it’s a hard place. The humidity, the bugs. That kind of living is just not for some people. That’s why they go to Colorado to live. But this is the space I’ve lived in all my life, and these songs fit into that idea.
“It’s funny, after you’ve lived in a place long enough, you can become intimate with a road, even a big one like I-10. That results in words and songs, and you hope people will understand. I think guys in Houston get that.”
Russell spent two years in Humble, where he recalls playing a Valentine’s Day dance at Humble Middle School that sent his classmates flocking to the exits. When his family moved to Shreveport, La., he was able to play bars as a teenager, the kind of loud venues that teach young musicians how to be heard over an inattentive din.
“You gotta do something to get their attention,” Russell said, “because nobody gives a (expletive). And that never goes away entirely. I can be on fire some nights, and there’s still somebody who doesn’t like it and walks out. But I like looking for those people. I like to play the shows for the (expletives) who don’t like the music. I want to change their hearts and minds. ‘I’m gonna make you happy, and you’re gonna dance, (expletive).’ I’ve seen it happen.”
In Shreveport, Russell formed his first real band, the Picket Line Coyotes, “which was like a Husker-Du-meets-Hank-Williams thing.” When they split, he headed to Austin in the early ’90s, which is where the Gourds formed and built a following with their rollicking and soulful jug-band-type music.
Though the Gourds was a prolific recording act over the past 15 years, the band carries three songwriters, which can leave each of them with a surplus of songs. So Russell looked for another outlet for his.
Shinyribs took shape in Houston, and Russell pitched a monthly residency at Under the Volcano. The name was something he thought he heard an appreciative homeless woman shout at him after he stopped at a red light and gave her a take-out box of barbecue. He got no explanation of its meaning.
“She was screaming as the light changed,” he said. “So that’s maybe not what she said, but it’s what I heard.”
Shinyribs started with Russell doing a solo acoustic set. One night after a show, he fell asleep behind the wheel returning home to Austin and missed his exit off I-10. From that point forward he brought company, which evolved over the years into some members of the collective that made the first Shinyribs album, “Well After Awhile,” and the more formal band — Gourds drummer Keith Langford, bassist Jeff Brown and keyboardist Winfield Cheek — that made “Gulf Coast Museum.”
“Well After Awhile” was a joyous-sounding album, a festive collaborative affair that laid Russell’s inspirations bare. If the harmonica and guitar melody on “Country Cool” borrows a little from Johnny Paycheck, the Clavinet on “East TX Rust” suggests Stevie Wonder and the folky shuffle of “Poor People’s Store” has a Woody Guthrie vibe, those three influences triangulate Shinyribs well.
On “Gulf Coast Museum,” Russell emulsifies these sounds into a soulful roots-music sound of his own that he uses to back his impressionistic lyrics about love, life, death and food. Thinking about “Gulf Coast Museum,” he realizes there are a lot of sugar and sweetness references.
The band has grown tight over the past couple of years, and the songs benefited from being played live time and again. As a Shinyribs show would suggest, if one sensibility steers the band’s sound, it’s that Americana music should be funkier. Russell’s songs aren’t meant to be admired while sitting.
“For me it’s just natural: I love country and I love soul music,” Russell said. “Even contemporary R&B and soul music and rap. I’m as influenced by that as much as old country, really. I’m always trying to mash those things together, to do something artistic and interesting and creative with it in a modern context.
“Maybe there’s some unwritten rule against it, but if so, I’m going to break it. I don’t know who’ll punish me for it. But honestly, I don’t think it really exists.”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. April 10 (album release show)
Where: Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet
Tickets: $10 at the door; 713-526-5282