Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal (Music Review)

The Grifter's Hymnal cover

Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal

After I named Ray Wylie Hubbard’s previous album one of the best albums I discovered in 2011, you’d think that I’d know to check out his next one as soon as it came out. But I missed out again, waiting until now to try his 2012 release The Grifter’s Hymnal. And while I don’t think this one is quite going to make it on my year-end list, it’s a reminder that I need to pay closer attention to Hubbard.

Hubbard is an old country bluesman with a penchant for slide guitar, but he’s more versatile and experimental than you’d expect from that description. He sounds a little more settled down this time, which is probably why it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But still, it features the rocking, irreverent “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell”, half-spoken stories of his restless youth in “Mother Blues”, and “Henhouse”, a catchy tale that rambles through country life and exaggerated character studies. Mostly about sinning, with a few heartfelt moments about God, Hubbard still sounds wild and fun despite the knowing way he looks back on life. And songs like “Moss and Flowers” provide a soulful counterpoint to his jokester moments. This is still a varied, well-rounded album.

Even when he’s playing around, music is serious business to Hubbard. Throughout tales of sex, drugs, and faith, it’s obvious that music is what really drives him. Some songs address this directly, such as the DIY blues set-up of “Coricidin Bottle”, while others just mix music directly in with the rest of his life. When he is judged in “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell”, Hubbard mainly considers his musical accomplishments (“Sure I drank a lot of gin and tonic, but I never threw away my Panasonic.”) It’s a philosophy that should make Hubbard a friend to any music lover.

Though my preferred Ray Wylie Hubbard album was A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), don’t let me scare you off of The Grifter’s Hymnal. It’s an excellent celebration of life, as seen through the eyes of a man who mixes the best parts of youth and age.

Grade: B+

 
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