Posts Tagged ‘ Ray Wylie Hubbard ’

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+

 

Best Albums of 2011

It’s traditional for end-of-year lists to start with a self-aware apology. I’ll gloss over the standard part, because I assume you already know how silly and arbitrary this process is, that it’s only meant to reflect my own opinion, and so on. The only part that really gives me pause is how incomplete it is. I do this as a hobby, which means that I’m generally only reviewing the albums I’ve chosen to buy (or in a couple cases, borrowed from friends). This year, I reviewed 67 albums, only 32 of which were actually from 2011. I still have about 15 more from this year that I have yet to review. Now, I listened to part or all of a couple hundred albums online before I decided I was interested in the ones I bought, but it’s still a limited sample.

So, I’m sure I’ve missed a few gems. But at this point in my life, I’m pretty confident in my ability to find the music I’m most likely to enjoy. So I think it’s fair for me to pick a top 5 for the year. Even if I did buy and review a couple hundred more of the year’s popular albums, I think that these ones would manage to stay within the top 10.

I don’t really feel like there was a runaway #1 this year, but I’m comfortable defending each one’s position near the top. Yes, even the albums that no one else picked.

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Ray Wylie Hubbard – A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) (Music Review)

A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) cover

Ray Wylie Hubbard - A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C)

Ray Wylie Hubbard has been around for decades, but his country-blues style has never found popular appeal. On 2010’s A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), he seems perfectly comfortable with his place in the industry. This is the sound of an experienced, confident artist making the music he wants.

Hubbard’s sound is calm and even, singing over rhythmic, bass-heavy music that recalls the days before country and blues evolved into separate genres. His voice betrays his age, but in this genre, trading energy for soul is always worthwhile. His attitude feels perfectly authentic to his Texas home and blues influence, though it is rarely found in mainstream country. Hubbard is as likely to sing about drugs and wayward women as everyday country life, and these two sides to his persona keep the songs varied and interesting. Bridging the gap are the occasional songs celebrating the music itself (“Down Home Country Blues”) and religious tracks that go beyond the lazy cliches of the genre (“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”).

Hubbard maybe gets a little too slow when he channels the quiet country life (“Tornado Ripe” goes nowhere, and “Wasp’s Nest” is frankly boring), but that’s as close as the album comes to a misstep. It’s an easy one to forgive when he’s willing to go just as far in the opposite direction, with a couple experiments (such as a guest vocalist groaning “Cada día es la Día de los Muertos” over halting drums and electric guitar) that only work due to his laid-back attitude and the wide ground he covers.

Among the most notable songs: The title track’s dreamlike lyrics fit its name and set the tone for the album. “Loose” is an upbeat story reminiscent of John Prine that examines the word “loose” and turns it into an empowering description for a woman. “Black Wings” is a mournful dirge that hints at how important music is to Hubbard when he mixes references to specific instruments and songs in with the emotional lyrics.

A. Enlightenment shows Hubbard arguably at his peak, and makes his lifetime out of the spotlight seem like a crime. Music, life, religion and sin coexist in a string of honest songs that celebrate what country music should be.

Grade: A-