Music Reviews

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Ray Wylie Hubbard

Crusades of the Restless Knights

Philo/Rounder

Even in his native Texas, troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard is little more than a cult figure. Of course, there’s a lonesome-voiced, psychedelic cowboy with tunes of heartbreak and loneliness under every rock in Texas. Outside the Lone Star State, Hubbard is a virtual unknown. Some may remember his mid-eighties band the Cowboy Twinkies, one of the first true cowpunk outfits whose sole record was ruined by overproduction, or they may remember his completely unrepresentative yet still entertaining Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother . Otherwise, mention Ray Wylie Hubbard and more likely than not you’ll get a resounding “huh?”

All of which is a damn shame, because Hubbard is one of the best singer/songwriters to ever come out of the fertile Texas troubadour field, rivaling Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt in terms of imagery, emotion and turn of phrase. Hubbard proves he’s got what it takes on his newest release Crusades of the Restless Knights , one of two albums of his in print.

The primo track on the record has to be “The Lovers in Your Dreams.” With its bluegrass-inspired melody and wonderful lyrical acrobatics, Hubbard portrays the feeling we all get when we think the one we love doesn’t exactly respond in kind. A close second is “Conversation with the Devil,” a clever little talking blues number in the vein of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” Hubbard’s dream journey through the fires of Hell ends with one of the best lines in recent years (“Some get spiritual cause they see the light and some cause they feel the heat”), which sums up the motivation of a whole lot of “good” Christians perfectly.

Reveling in some “outlaw” bad-boyness, Hubbard draws an engaging character sketch of a backslider in “This River Runs Red,” and pontificates on overcoming adversity on the opener “Crows.” While he may not have the respect Clark enjoys or the reverence Van Zandt gets, Hubbard’s Crusades of the Restless Knights proves he’s got the songs and the sharp songwriting eye to make Texas proud.

Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140; http://www.rounder.com


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