On Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s new album Co-Starring, a raft of high-octane collaborators join the Texas troubadour on 10 mostly new Hubbard originals that range from gentle folk-country to amped-up blues-rock.
Some of the biggest-name guests are on “Bad Trick,” a litany of aphorisms stitched into a stony mid-tempo rocker that rides one of Hubbard’s trademark minimalist melodies. It features Ringo Starr on drums, Don Was on bass, Joe Walsh on electric guitar, and Chris Robinson’s distinctive vocals, each recorded in a different city and in one case a different country. Welcome to the 21st century!
“Rock Gods,” featuring Aaron Lee Tasjan on electric guitar, is one of Hubbard’s best songs in years, with a slow Pink Floyd groove, an echo of Hubbard’s own “Dust of the Chase,” and a pinch of Tom Petty, whom the song commemorates. “Ain’t nobody left to sing the blues the way they supposed to be sung,” RWH intones in his deep, still-strong voice. “And all the rock gods are dead or dying / Seems the whole world is broken and crying…This train we’re on is coming off the tracks.” Welcome to 2020!
The death of another music legend inspired the easygoing, reverential “Mississippi John Hurt.” Pam Tillis adds smooth harmony vocals, while Ray’s son Lucas Hubbard contributes a tasteful Resonator guitar solo.
Serious energy kicks in when The Cadillac Three stop in for “Fast Left Hand.” The southern-rock trio help turn this bluesy-biblical one-chord snarl into a fiery blitz. In the lyrics, longtime fans will hear a reference to the song that gained Hubbard a new following at the closing of the last century, “Conversation with the Devil.”
Another rocker, “R.O.C.K.”, comes to life when Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown pitch in. This gravelly onslaught reminds me of something Barbara Keith’s Stone Coyotes might have cranked out. “Rattlesnake Shakin’ Woman” is another Hubbard one-chorder cranked up to 11, with the help of Larkin Poe‘s Rebecca and Megan Lovell along with Bryant and the band.
“Drink Till I See Double” is a good-natured trad-country duet with Elizabeth Cook, co-written with Ronnie Dunn. The refrain should enter the canon of classic couplets, as should the opening lines: “I can see you are a woman of taste / By your Reba McEntire tattoo.” Ashley McBryde contributes decisive harmonies to “Outlaw Blood.” And it wouldn’t be an RWH album without a song about a guitar. “Hummingbird” is the album’s sweetest number, with bluegrass legend Peter Rowan playing along:
Now when the roll is called up yonder
I sure pray my name is heard
And if I pass through the pearly gates
I hope Saint Peter’ll let me bring in my hummingbird
Surely he will. If he has any doubt, St. Pete need only listen to the song that closes out this album, a remake of Hubbard’s beautiful oldie “The Messenger,” originally on Crusades of the Restless Knights. Dunn and Tillis sing harmonies over a deeply felt, folksy version, backed only by acoustic guitar and cello but sounding as rich as anything else on this brilliantly produced album. “I’m not looking for God,” the song ends, “I just want to see what’s next.” Welcome to tomorrow!
Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Co-Starring is available now.