Review: Ray Wylie Hubbard gives the devil run for money

Tahoe Onstage
At 70, Ray Wylie Hubbard made the kind of unflinching, vital album that the likes of Chris Stapleton would have to aspire to.

Ray Wylie Hubbard appears like a character stitched from the strands of DNA that Billy Joe Shaver, Tony Joe White and James McMurtry shed on a scarred wooden stage. But, in spite of any parallel, ol’ grizzled and eloquent Ray is as unique as they come.

On the cover of “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can,” he looks ready to cast a spell, painted-on wings be damned. And you know what? He casts quite a wicked batch of them here. Ray has had the devil in and out of him so many times as a man, and as a writer, that he sure as hell has a way with the theme. So, he starts from the beginning, relating how “God Looked Around” and created everything, including the demon himself. In the style that he drawls out the account, amid a spooky acoustic blues, Ray Wylie Hubbard makes six days’ worth of A to Z sound like a wise-ass child’s play. What a way to open an album!

In “Dead Thumb King,” the protagonist shakes in a shady space with “Dirt from Lightnin’ Hopkins’ grave and some bones from an old black crow” as part of his makeup. The visage that materializes mesmerizes. Hubbard then switches gears a bit and pays tribute to the sadly unheralded 1960s blues trio, (“Spider” John) Koerner, (Dave “Snaker”) Ray, & (Tony “Little Sun”) Glover with “Spider, Snaker and Little Sun,” who he’s joked, “Looked like sinister, low-key criminals!” Lucinda Williams and Eric Church make appearances alongside Ray in the awesome, confessional title song, the three of them together creating quite a meandering country-blues. Of particular note is Jeff Plankenhorn, who adds much to the vibe with his eerie slide guitar playing.

In the rock and roll of “Old Wolf,” Ray describes a scene, and says a word within the howlin’, that might nowadays get you tarred and feathered. But Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t easily fazed. At 70, he’s made the kind of unflinching, vital album that the likes of Chris Stapleton would have to aspire to. Don’t go rushing things, Ray. You may or may not give Lucifer a considerable run for his money one day, but in the long meantime, please keep making records like this.

-Tom Clarke

  • Ray Wylie Hubbard
    “Tell The Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can”
    Label:
    Bordello Records

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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