Back in the groove, Texas-based singer-songwriter, producer and recording act, Ray Wylie Hubbard as ever comes up with an album full of songs that hit you face on. Songs about a crooked record label boss (Jimmy Perkins at Sustain that Wylie leased his album, Snake Farm to and lost out big time), an old blues club, old blues guys and one about counting your blessings. Backed by a pulsating beat, restless rhythms and his wild national resonator, acoustic guitar and slide work to go with his hit you first ask question vocals you have an album best played loud and often. All the songs but ‘Coochy Coochy’ written by Ringo Starr (the former Beatle playing guitar, harmony vocals and percussion) is either penned by Ray Wylie or co-writes. ‘Train Yard’ with Liz Foster now with The Trishas is an interesting combination. One he took a while to adjust to as he sought to emphasize through a woman’s mind. It works too, and like all tracks it is powerful too.
All the songs are interesting and bear the RWH stamp. Resolute musically as Ray Wylie, Rick Richards (kick drum, tambourine and other percussion sounding tools), Lucas Hubbard (Les Paul Gold Top lead guitar), Ian McLagan (piano), Billy Cassis (acoustic slide guitar), George Reiff (bass, piano, percussion) and Audley Freed (electric, acoustic 12 string guitar, mandolin) get down to it. Possible, although it has a few challengers ‘Mother Blues’ that tells the story of an old blues club in Dallas back in the 1970s he frequented is the best track. The song comes from a low point in his life, this was when drink was Ray’s master and the memories came back to him when his wife, Judy spotted a photo of her working on the door back then (aged 16) at the venue. As for the song it opens with Ray speaking of him wishing for a Gold Top Les Paul guitar and how he saw Lightnin’ Hopkins play and the many bad decisions he made over the next twenty years. Asked to play ‘Polk Salad Annie’ one night he plays a good few riffs from the Tony Joe White classic. To go with the story of him as a raw, reckless twenty-one year rock’n’roll might have be a ‘star’ ‘Mother Blues’ also speaks of how he got to marry the girl on the door. To finish Hubbard speaks of how he loves what he does, and to have all the great players up there with him on a night. His son, Lucus playing that Les Paul plus, Reiff the amazing Richards (has there ever been a better percussionist than him of the type of music he plays) among them.
‘New Year’s Eve At The Gates Of Hell’ is a raw, hard knuckled affair that speaks of how kids or otherwise are ripped off by unscrupulous ‘business’ men in music. Like ‘Red Badge Of Courage’ that was inspired after Ray received a letter from a kid out in Afghanistan asking for chords to one of his songs the former is a song many will be able to relate to. The former in particular with its kick ass beat hits plumb centre, enough to stop you in your tracks and totally pin your ears back.
Each song is a piece of work of its own standing. ‘Henhouse’ (Hubbard – Matt King) is a great one too. In some ways it reminds me of Tom Waits’ ‘Murder In The Red Barn’ as he speaks of the hen house and the old barn door and thumps out a not to be missed rhythm. Likewise ‘Count My Blessings’ has a powerful feel —don’t they all. Only this time it speaks of Sam Cooke, Lightnin’ Hopkins and how he saw an old black crow on a fence post on his way to doing his radio show and hey, pesto he had the makings of another great song. Following it in the running order and in fact closing the album he produces a country gospel song, Fred McDowell style ‘Ask God’. Loaded in slide guitar, percussion and mandolin (Freed) the idea to write it came after seeing Luther Dickinson, playing slide on a video of him covering ‘Lamp Trimmed And Burning’. A powerful affair that has seen many people cover it from blues to bluegrass (Hot Rize) and what an inspired piece RWH comes up with. Pulling ideas together from various points of the compass ‘Moss And Flowers’ came about after Charlie Shafter gave his two lines for a song and asked if he was up for working on one together and with him at the tie reading about how distraught (Lord) Byron was when (Percy) Shelly died and wondered could he put himself in the position where he could write like a romantic English poet or write something like an Irish wake. As it is he comes across more in keeping with an old Irish country wake. Death and God come up often as on ‘Lazarus’ that speaks of one’s mortality while ‘Red Badge Of Courage’ takes a look and swipe, respectively, at those fighting the wars for failures of old men.
And, you know what I was a little apprehensive at first about playing this record as I got to thinking could he really come up with something we had not already heard, but there was nothing to fear as the Oklahoma-born, adopted Texan Wylie defies all!
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