Ray Wylie Hubbard | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ray Wylie Hubbard


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Ray Wylie Hubbard has spent most of the 90s putting the previous two decades behind him. He's still best known as the guy who wrote "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," a 1973 hit for Jerry Jeff Walker that became something of an anthem for the outlaw country movement, but that old tough-guy stance doesn't have much to do with Hubbard's own recent records, including his super new collection, Crusades of the Restless Knights (Philo). Like his late idol Townes Van Zandt, Hubbard's a dusty Texas wanderer channeling Bob Dylan, inhabiting well-worn folk-rock structures and making them sound fresh. The obvious highlight of his new album, "Conversation With the Devil," is a rambling, hilarious fever dream in which a guy finds himself in hell and tries to deal with it: "It looked like I was gonna be stuck here as far as I could tell / I thought I might as well suck up, what the hell / I said, 'You know that song that Charlie Daniels did / About how you went down to Georgia and played fiddle against that kid?' / 'Yeah,' he said, 'it broke my heart, but, you know, what are you gonna do?' / 'Well to tell you the truth I thought your solo was the better of the two.'" As that tune winds down, he sings, "I took this dream as a sign from God so I thought I better pray / I said, 'Don't ever speak to me directly and thanks anyway.'" Hubbard, who's battled his share of demons over the years, has no use for religion per se--in the liner notes he says he hasn't set foot in a church in the last three decades "except to get married and to bury people"--but his songs are spiritual in a way that's both very personal and about as universal as you can get. In "The Messenger" he sings, "I am not looking for God / I just want to see what's next," and I don't think there are many folks out there who can't relate to that. Thursday, August 19, 9:30 PM, the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433. PETER MARGASAK

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