Wednesday: Veteran Texas roots rocker Ray Wylie Hubbard at SPACE | Bleader

Wednesday: Veteran Texas roots rocker Ray Wylie Hubbard at SPACE


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Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard
Veteran Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard hasn't mellowed a bit with age—in fact he and his grizzled, raspy voice seem to get more primal as the years pass. On his awkwardly titled 2010 album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) (Bordello) he celebrates the blues ("I say that Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake") as well as the instinctive impulse to make noise ("Pots and Pans" blurs the line between sounds made by musical instruments and those from a woman in the throes of orgasm). That's not to say his lyrics are unsophisticated: on "Tornado Ripe" he sings, "Them clouds had grown a tail," so that "all directions of the compass was death and kindlin'." Hubbard's treatments of pleasure and pain are pure old-school, a mixture of Bob Dylan and the original Country Outlaws—the band with whom he came up in the 70s.

On the even better The Grifter's Hymnal (Bordello), he sounds just as ornery, though he's in a rowdier mood, frequently waxing poetic about the redemptive power of old-school rock 'n' roll—you just don't come across new albums that name-check the James Gang, the Doors, and Otis Rush anymore. On "South of the River," which sounds like a cross between southern-fried boogie and outlaw country (Hubbard wrote the classic "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," a minor hit for Jerry Jeff Walker), Hubbard refers to rock as a kind of deadly force: "There's some homicidal bands that still rock like that / They'll cut your throat with bass, drums, Les Pauls, and Strats." (Listen for yourself below.) He pushes that idea again on "Lazarus," waxing romantic about the hardscrabble music life:

So here we are now, kinda like abandoned dogs
Wrapped up in gunnysacks and singing cast iron songs
We're weird old America
We're grinning with sharp teeth
We're beautiful on the surface and rotten underneath

He gets autobiographical on "Mother Blues," telling the story of a naive youthful infatuation with a stripper who repeatedly pawned his beloved "Goldtop" Les Paul guitar before they split up ("We broke up and she went to Hollywood, she married an actor / She got a job dancing on the Hudson Brothers TV show"). Then he talks-sings about how his son now plays that same instrument—in fact he's playing it on "Mother Blues." "Red Badge of Courage" is a predictable but effective antiwar song inspired by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (though replacing "middle eastern sun" with some other kind of sun wouldn't do much to weaken the kicker: "We was just kids doing the dirty work for the failures of old men"), while "Train Yard" uses loads of vintage blues idioms to describe a fleeting sexual liaison.

I suppose you could criticize for Hubbard for making music as if the past few decades had never happened, but personally I'd need a better reason to dismiss the power and grit of his music. He plays SPACE in Evanston on Wednesday night in a duo with drummer Kyle Schneider.

photo: Todd Wolfson

Today's playlist:

Erkin Koray, Mechul: Singles & Rarities (Sublime Frequencies)
Blue Mitchell Quintet, Down With It! (Blue Note)
Junior Dan, Junior Dan (Honest Jon's)
Vinnie Sperrazza, Jacob Sacks, and Masa Kamaguchi, Barcelona Holiday (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Sigurd Berge, Early Electronic Works (Prisma)


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