Artist: Ray Wylie Hubbard
Album: Tell the Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can
Label: Bordello/Thirty Tigers
Release Date: 08.18,2017
While this may not be officially a trilogy of albums, it would certainly qualify musically and almost so thematically. You could listen to The Grifter’s Hymnal, Ruffian’s Misfortune, and this one and essentially take it as one long-playing piece, as if Ray Wylie Hubbard has settled into his own special groove. Musically, it’s a mashup of talking blues, Texas acoustic blues, and basic rock ‘n’ roll. The themes remain stocked with biblical references, vintage guitars and amplifiers, and a few vivid character portraits. What sets this one slightly apart from his past two are his return to his poetic, mystical material of the ’90s and the high-profile guests. Eric Church and Lucinda Williams contribute to the title track and a previous collaborator from his classic 1999 Crusades of the Restless Knights, Patty Griffin, joins for the closer, “In Times of Cold.” Austin psych-rockers Bright Light Social Hour color “The Rebellious Sons.”
As on the previous albums, it’s a stripped-down, ragged sound with Hubbard’s son, Lucas, carrying most of the electric guitar parts while Jeff Plankenhorn adds slide, dobro, and mandolin on select tracks. Hubbard is sometimes described as “howl, holler, and stomp with a few good stories mixed in.” However, the protagonists of devil and God appear so often here that it seems to herald a return to compelling tunes like “The Messenger” and “Dust of the Chase” of his ’90s era. Maybe it marks a turn of direction, as he does try something new with “The Rebellious Sons.” Hubbard comments, “I’ve always had this idea that I needed to do something like ‘All Along the Watchtower’. So I basically sat down with the intent to write this mythological, Holy Grail/Games of Thrones kind of thing and then I had the guys from the Bright Light Social Hour come in, because I knew they’d be perfect for it.”
Hubbard is, of course, famous for anthems like “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and “Screw You, I’m from Texas.” Former producers Gurf Morlix and the late George Reiff told Hubbard that he needed to have a rock ‘n’ roll anthem of sorts on every record, and the title track is his answer to that. Ray says, “…it’s got an old gnarly guitar and slide on it, but I really love that it’s also got that ‘Maggie May’ instrumentation thing going on, with mandolin and Hammond B3 together; in fact, Bukka (Allen) came in and did an Ian McLagan thing on it that was just great. And then of course we got Eric (Church) singing his part, and finally Lucinda put her Lucinda low-down cool on it!”
Of note also are the nods to the nicknames of bluesmen John Koerner, Dave Ray and Tony Glover in “Spider, Snake, and Little Sun” as well as Howlin’ Wolf in “Old Wolf.” In one sense, Hubbard has gotten a bit too comfortable lately and had success doing so. Here he stays true to that sound but lets us know that he’s willing to experiment a bit and build on his hallmark sound at the same time.