Having paid his dues in the potpourri-genre Texas band Gourds, Kev Russell this time opted to go it alone. Well, about as alone as one can get when it comes to the burgeoning and stellar Austin music scene. Mixing rock with pop, blues, Cajun, and country, Russell’s open door policy to recording resulted in a number of supporting cast members. And it certainly hasn’t hurt any of the nearly dozen tracks here. Although obviously sounding a bit like his main group, Buttermilk and Rifles sounds like John Hiatt up on Cripple Creek.
The funky roots rock of “Virgin of the Cobra” has a lovable funk roots feeling to it in the vein of that brief supergroup Little Village. Mentioning the title early on in the lyrics, Russell and longtime friend Jimmy Smith offer up some sweet mountain music harmonies that would perfectly complement the Band. It’s a distinct Texas sound though, regardless of the crossover genre style. “Twilight of Song” is a bit startling though, as it tends to move the record in a softer, ballad-like tone too quickly. Although it’s a great track complete with fiddle from Max Johnston, the tune would be better placed deeper in the tracklisting. Again sounding like Hiatt, the song also could work well alongside Tom Petty’s Wildflowers period. “(Somebody Bring Me a Flower) I’m a Robot” makes about as much sense as it sounds like it would, but it’s another toe-tapping hillbilly yokel tune with a tuba thrown in for good measure.
Buttermilk & Rifles
US: 9 Jul 2002
UK: Available as import
Fortunately for Russell, he isn’t prone to being a musical Luddite. The rhythms and drumbeat on “Way Fallen Stranger” aren’t sampled, but have a similar beat or tempo to such. Veering between old-time “fire and brimstone” country gospel Ralph Stanley is known for and what Beck can do on a whim, the song is perhaps the album’s high point. “I’m going there to meet my brother / To translate my father’s tome / I am just going down to Beaumont / I am just going down to home,” he sings like a beaten man. After a brief instrumental track, the album takes another turn back to an almost Vaudeville sound on “Sam Morgan”. Resembling an early Bob Dylan jug band, Russell’s voice seems perfect for the part, resembling Levon Helm so much it’s a bit scary. “Milk & Tears” has too much of a twang to it, resulting in a forced effort and rather average performance.
Another hairpin turn in the musical route Russell rides happens during the ragged rock sound on “Ashes in M’Beard”. As Claude Bernard gives a Southern rock guitar performance, Russell lets his voice go full throttle here. It’s a welcome surprise actually, but tends to deflate as it ends its brief rock stay. “No More the Moon Shines on Lorena” is a Civil War era narrative dealing with a slave and his love. The only track not penned by Russell (originally written by A.P. Carter), the basic blueprint is a mix of mountain music sound and a touch of Celtic influences. “Imbibing my Prescriptions” is a tune Russell never recorded with Gourds, but one that was always lying around. But it’s one of the weaker tracks here.
As a whole, the record doesn’t sound forced or contrived like so many other albums trying to capture a similar organic quality. “Eating my crow with a silver spoon,” is what the musician quips on “Church on Fire” and it seems an appropriate theme for the album. It’s an extremely well performed musical journey back to where alternative country began decades ago.