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Shinyribs brings swamp-funk to Santa Fe

Austin-based swamp-funk band Shinyribs will kick off the Santa Fe Bandstand free summer concerts. (Courtesy of Wyatt McSpadden)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Kevin Russell describes himself as a wallflower in everyday life.

But anyone who’s seen him perform may find that hard to believe.

The frontman for the Austin-based, swamp-funk band Shinyribs is known for his larger-than-life stage presence. Donning one of his vibrant suits – he wore a sequined, LED-lined cloak during the band’s Austin City Limits show last year – Russell dances through his sets. He’s also leads audience conga lines, something he picked up from a Texas polka band he saw years ago.

“If I was in the audience, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do on stage, just for the record,” he said during a recent phone interview from North Carolina, on his way to a Shinyribs’ show in Winston-Salem.

But he knows how awkward many people feel when watching live music – some don’t know how to move and others simply hold themselves back. So, Russell says he “allows” himself to be an animated performer. That, he says, frees everyone else to open up.

“I don’t know if it’s like I’m just trying to give everyone permission to be whoever they want to be, because I’m so crazy,” Russell said. “You don’t expect me to do what I do. And I think that’s part of the attraction of the show: Here’s this old man with a white beard and beer belly, looks like a funky Santa Claus, and he’s shaking his hips and spinning. It sets people back at first. They’re like, what’s going on? It’s very interesting, though. It is compelling.”

Shinyribs frontman Kevin Russell. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Bandstand)

Shinyribs, which has won the Austin Music Awards’ best local band honor the past two years, is kicking off the Santa Fe Bandstand’s summer season. They perform on the The Plaza at 7 p.m. Wednesday following the opening act, local favorites Felix y Los Gatos.

Russell, a Beaumont, Texas, native, said Shinyribs’ soulful musical style – influenced by genres like old New Orleans R&B and Louisiana “swamp pop” – comes from his upbringing around the Gulf Coast region. The band started out more than a decade ago as a side project for Russell, who also fronted another popular Austin band, The Gourds, from the mid-90s until its hiatus in 2013.

That’s when Shinyribs became his full-time gig.

His current sound is a far departure from the The Gourds, which leaned more toward a bluegrass, mountain style of Americana.

“But once I got with the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns, then suddenly this whole other world was possible and I could explore,” he said, referring to Shinyribs’ trumpet and sax/flute duo Tiger Anaya and Mark Wilson.

“This suddenly moved me (musically) from Kentucky to New Orleans,” he said. “Like The Carter Family moved to New Orleans. And got a horn section.”

Today, the group includes Russell (on guitar), the horns, drummer Keith Langford, Winfield Creek on keyboards, bass player Jeff Brown and “The Shiny Soul Sisters” vocalists Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee.

At its shows, the band performs a combination of original tracks and a repertoire of covers spanning styles and eras.

“A big one’s been ‘B**** Better Have My Money’ by Rihanna. That’s our latest and greatest cover,” he said. The group also has soul versions of hits from Meghan Trainor, David Bowie, Bobby “Blue” Bland and George Jones, according to Russell.

On Friday, the band debuted its sixth album, “Fog and Bling.” The album, Russell said, is made up of songs that evolved from explorative home recordings he made in his shed. He described the album as a departure for Shinyribs in the sense that it was recorded in a studio as opposed to live, allowing the tracks to be more “methodical and layered.”

The title is a line in the first song on the record, “Sing It Right,” in which Russell issues his advice for singers around the world. One of the lines is “Burn Your Maps, Backwards Hats, Fog and Bling.”

“Burn your maps, so you don’t want to follow any map, you want to explore your own adventure,” Russell explained. Backward hats, fog, and bling, he said, are the “trappings of fame.”

“If you go into it thinking about fame, trying to get famous, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “You’re making art here. You’re making great art. That’s the objective.”

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