Ray Wylie Hubbard
This dude has a huge reputation as a kind of metaphysical cowboy poet; ever heard the song “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother?” Well, that’s Ray’s song. He led a band called the Cowboy Twinkies back in the ’70s with songs like “He’s the One (Who Made Me #2).” So yeah, he’s kinda legendary in Texas rebel-country circles.
And this is supposed to be his big comeback record, the one that shows everybody just how dope and tough he is as a solo artist. I’d heard people salivating all over it, “oh my gawd it’s so amazing” – so I had to check it out myself. And the first few times I listen to it, I was all like “Eh, big deal.”
Sure, I appreciated the kick-ass-ness of “Preacher,” in which Ray W. wins a theological argument with a man of the cloth by pointing out how damned HOTT his woman is. That’s on my A-list for the year. “Bones” might be more B-list, but it’s right at the top of that list – it’s a gutbucket snake-blues wherein the narrator kid and his dad win a bunch of simoleons playing craps, and when it’s revealed at the end that Dad’s dice were loaded – and that Mom knows all about it – I was hooked.
But some of the other stuff bugged me for a while. Too many songs, I thought, relied on Hubbard just talking about his not-so-famous friends; why should I care about who “Mr. MacDowell” and “Mr. Foley” and “Ms. Williams” are in “No Lie?” Why do I care about all the names dropped on “Name Droppin’,” all of whom are backing him on the track but none of whom mean beans to me? And what the hell are 99.999999% of the people on earth supposed to do with the song “Screw You, We’re From Texas”?
But now, after a coupla months, these songs all sound pretty great to me. Part of it is that I’m in major country/blues mode these days, and part of it is the fact that I’ve been to Austin now, so now I understand what the scene is all about. But another part must just be that these songs are really fun great take-no-shit tunes, gravelled by Hubbard in his Tex Waits growl. (Never has an album been more accurately titled, y’all.) (I hope I didn’t steal that line from someone else. If so, I apologize. It’s just too easy.)
That doesn’t mean that I like “Rock-N-Roll Is a Vicious Game” any more than I did – it’s too smug, too I’m-above-all-that, to really love much. And there’s not much to “The Knives of Spain,” which is just paint-by-numbers country hipsterism.
But “Stolen Horses” is ripped directly from my subconscious, a rock song the way they used to be: “I’ll be ridin’ stolen horses / On some distant shore” goes so nicely with “Reincarnation as I understand it / Is birth, death and rebirth / Unless we get enlightenment, full tilt enlightenment / We come back down here on earth”! Damn, this is my kind of country rebel, even though he’d hate my freakin’ guts for not being from Texas. Well, screw him for that … but god bless him for making this record. It’s a hell of a ride, and maybe he’ll bust out a full-fledged masterpiece one of these days yet.