There’re two natural phenomena occurring this week. August 21, 2017 will see a full solar eclipse of the sun and August 19 will see the release of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s newest album Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There as Fast as I Can. While the former might be getting all the media attention, the latter will probably turn out to be not only more enduring, but maybe even more endearing.
Hubbard is one of those musicians who don’t fit comfortably into anybody’s safe little niche. He’s not really country, blues, rock or folk, but he’s all of those things. He plays a mean slide guitar and invokes people like Lightnin’ Hopkins in a rough hewn voice which, to paraphrase his old buddy Jerry Jeff Walker, sounds like the voice of age when he speaks right out. It’s not age as in old, but age as being tapped into some inner wisdom – some seam that allows him to gather the past and the present together to reveal little gems of truth.
From a retelling of the Book of Genesis with “God Looked Around” to a literal road trip from Hell down to Mobile in “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels” the songs on this latest release cover an incredible range of territory both musically and lyrically. Some of them, like the latter and “Dead Thumb King” are bizarre and wonderful stream of consciences riffs.
On “Dead Thumb King” he runs through a list of items which sound like a recipe for a voodoo potion designed to make you the ultimate blues musician. Dirt from Hopkins’ grave, a harmonica thrown away by Charlie Musselwhite and a rattlesnake tail in your guitar.
The thing about Hubbard is you can actually kind of see him picking up a hitchhiking Lucifer and friends and taking career advice from them. “Call me Lou, Lucifer said/Now listen don’t take this wrong/Ain’t nobody in this town (Nashville) going to want to publish your songs/Your cool but your old/they don’t care about that snake farm groove and grip/And you didn’t make any money/Even when that ass Paul Thorn recorded it.”
While songs like this and “Old Wolf,” a salute to the denizens and permanent residences of roadhouses and drinking houses of ill repute everywhere, are fun and witty, Hubbard’s real depths come out in the beautiful poetry of his stories. For he is one of the great raconteurs of our age as well as a songwriter.
“House of the White Rose Bouquet” recounts the story of the relationship between a gambler and a Madame. By not trying to tug on our heartstrings, but by just telling the story in plain words so its beauty shines through, Hubbard takes something which could have been sentimental tripe and makes it real.
Maybe its because I’ve toured with theatre companies or have friends who were in bands and lived out of the back of vans, but the disc’s title song, “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There as Fast as I Can” resonates with me like few other tunes have in recent years. The music and the lyrics combine to create a piece which evokes the life of an itinerant artist traveling from gig to gig.
He doesn’t bemoan his fate or complain about his travails – it is was it is – nothing more and nothing less. Of course the fact the song features both Lucinda Williams and Eric Church harmonizing with Hubbard doesn’t hurt. Williams voice especially adds a wistfulness to the song which makes it hard to resist.
Hubbard epitomized alt country before the term even existed. He has resolutely travelled his own road without compromise. In a true and just world he’d be heard on radios around the country and sought after by record companies. However, in these imperfect times we have to make do with purchasing his CDs when they travel into our orbit.
Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There as Fast as I Can goes on sale August 19, 2017 and can be ordered through Hubbard’s website. Do yourself a favour – buy it and revel in its magic and mystery.