The Upshot: Fierce, fun and unforgettable badass rockin’—don’t mess with Texas, redneck muthas…
BY MICHAEL BERICK
There are Texas outlaws, and then there’s Ray Wylie Hubbard. Maybe only Billy Joe Shaver can match him as an ornery dude that you don’t want to mess with. After all, Hubbard first became known as the writer of “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother.” On The Ruffian’s Misfortune, Hubbard cranks it up and lets loose. Or to quote one of his tunes here – he’s “badass rockin’.” Backed by some jacked up guitar playing from Gabe Rhodes and Lucas Hubbard (Ray Wylie’s son), he delivers ten rough and tumble tunes that tend to touch on a sense of looming mortality or the joys of music.
Hubbard delivers a number of parable-like story-songs populated with black angels, undertakers who look like crows, forgotten saints and ghosts along the highway. They are Down-on-their-luck souls who could more easily fall to hell than being to walk barefoot in heaven. Hubbard sings with a craggy but commanding voice, like a latter day Johnny Cash, that makes you believe every word he says. In his fire-and-brimstone tales, Hubbard, however, finds some salvation through music.
One of the fun things on this album is catching all the music references that he injects into tunes. Fellow Texas country singer Kevin Welch is mentioned in the raw, tone-setting opening track, “All Loose Things,” and, in “Barefoot In Heaven,” he says he’d like to meet Sister Rosetta Tharpe in heaven, while the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top are all named-checked in the hot-wired car thief tale, “Bad On Fords.” Hubbard composes a whole song (“Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues”) about the harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite and, in “Jessie Mae,” he pays tribute to legendary blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill.
Hubbard’s celebration of music reaches its zenith in “Chick Singer, Badass Rockin’.” This greasy rave-up is a simple midnight tale about a “chick singer (who) “sings like a drunk Chrissie Hyde” that it might come off as corny in a lesser man’s hands. Hubbard; however creates such a vivid portrait with his sparse but colorful description that you feel like you’re in the bar with him. He also gets bonus points for slipping in a mention of the Americana-loving English journalist (and recently-arrived Americana artist—Ed.) Sylvie Simmons.
Hubbard and his band, which also includes a crack rhythm section (bassist/co-producer George Rieff and drummer Rick Richard), take no prisoners as they barrel through ten tunes in under 40 minutes. It’s a fierce, fun and unforgettable album that would be an achievement for a singer/songwriter of any age, but particularly for one on the far side of 60.
DOWNLOAD: “Chick Singer, Badass Rockin’”, “Barefoot In Heaven”