Well After Awhile
Nine Mile Records

I’ve watched Kevin Russell develop his Gourds alter-ego Shinyribs at a Wednesday residency once a month for the past two years at the corner bar just a couple of blocks from my house. What began as a tentative, revolving-cast goof suddenly gelled last year when Russell settled on a lineup of keyboardist Winfield Cheek, bassist Jeff Brown, and the final — but absolutely key — piece of the puzzle, Gourds drummer Keith Lankford. As those loose, no-pressure funkified shows unfolded, Russell worked out his musical joneses by letting his muse and the moment take him where it would through diverse set lists that included everything from Waylon and Willie to Pops Staples to R. Kelly and Russell’s own imaginative originals. And just as the band got comfortable, Russell was heading into the studio with George Reiff to cut Well After Awhile, a recording that touches exactly what is at the core of this wonderful band. Russell writes like an enigmatic Zen master with two funny bones stuffed inside the psyche of a sufi, and he swerves effortlessly between crack-me-up whimsy (“Poor Folks Store,” “Who Built the Moon”) to meet-my-Maker gospel (“Devil’s Song,” “Shores of Galilee”) on his first solo project since his jaw-dropping, out-of-left-field 2002 release Buttermilk and Rifles. It doesn’t get much more Austin than two anti-hipsters like Russell and Ray Wylie Hubbard trading lines like “sunglasses on a black bird/barbeque is the new word/sleepin’ bag ain’t no good/when you’re lost in the hood” on “East Texas Rust.” Well After Awhile is a wonderfully chaotic mishmash of country soul and down-on-the-farm funk from one of Austin’s true creative geniuses. — WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH