Ray Wylie Hubbard
Crusades of the Restless Nights
Although long considered a peer by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Billie Joe Shaver, and Willie Nelson, Ray Wylie Hubbard makes it perfectly clear that he is not going to rest on any laurels. Hubbard shook off his demons about eleven years ago, and he’s kept a keen eye on them ever since. He not only watches them, hell, sometimes he even talks to them in his songs. Hubbard is one of those rare artists who can include spiritual themes in his work without being cynical or preachy. Much like Steve Earle, Hubbard’s vision seems to have been honed razor-sharp by his recovery, and I’m sure he realizes it. His themes leave no doubt that his strong sense of spirituality is a key element in his continued recovery as well as the higher level of artistry that he has been consistently achieving on the last several releases. The releases of the last ten years show a much more refined depth, style, and clarity than his earlier work did. Taking time out to learn how to REALLY pick with the big boys didn’t hurt one bit either. Combine all of this growth with his already wry sense of humor, and you get one of the best songwriters and performers going today.
Hubbard’s style is sorta like Lyle Lovett’s, in that he seamlessly incorporates elements of folk, gospel, country and rock in his work. He also draws heavily on his personal experiences and influences in crafting this very strong body of work that details everything from an early Baptism that “didn’t take,” to a later “Conversation with the Devil,” in which he claims that he “didn’t do cocaine to get high, he just liked the way it smelled.” Later in the same song, after realizing that he ain’t gettin out of hell no matter how much he bullshits the Devil, he tries sucking up, telling the Devil that he personally liked his fiddle solo better than Charlie Daniels’. This particular song is the centerpiece for this collection, and it should go far in helping Hubbard to be known for something beyond his having been the author of the 1973 anthem “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”
Other highlights on this release include “Red Dress,” about the proverbial “Woman in Red,” and “This River Runs Red,” about his early Baptism and later misadventures. Also included here is the best tribute to Lynryd Skynrnd ever recorded with “Airplane Fell Down in Dixie.” This is definitely Hubbard’s best work ever and one of the best Alt-Country albums I’ve heard this year.
Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140; http://www.rounder.com