Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Make no mistake. When you cue up Ray Wylie Hubbard's new album - a bit of a follow up to 2012's "The Grifter's Hymnal" - you'll experience no misfortune. Instead, you'll take a walk down some rough roads with a ruffian who'll regale you with his compelling stories of badass women rockers, car thieves and legendary blues musicians that make up the musical DNA of your traveling companion. Joined by his son, Lucas, on lead guitar, Gabe Rhodes on guitar, Rick Richards on drums and George Reiff, Hubbard kicks out the jams ferociously and tenderly by turn on this set of 10 songs that skitter rambunctiously through rock, roots and the blues.
Hubbard honors two of his blues heroes - Charlie Musselwhite and Jessie Mae Hemphill - by telling their stories in two slow-burn blues numbers. In "Mr. Musselwhite's Blues," Hubbard fills the bridge with Musselwhite-like harp playing, and in "Jessie Mae," he acknowledges his debt to the blues singer, who every time she sings "black angels dance" by declaring in a typical repetitive blues style: "Oh, Jessie Mae/Oh, Jessie Mae/as God is my witness/as God is my witness/I'm obliged to you/I'm obliged to you/and the Mississippi blues/and the Mississippi blues."
Hubbard delivers his typically forceful storytelling in his straight ahead, no-holds-barred "Chick Singer Badass Rockin'": "Short dress/torn stockings/that chick singer/is badass rockin'/Sticky Fingers/Let It Bleed/Telecaster/Bottleneck slide/Sings like a drunken Chrissie Hynde/Says rock n roll is flatout lawless/And Joan Jett is a goddess." Ronnie Dunn shares the writing with Hubbard on the menacing stomp with a heart of gold, "Bad on Fords": "Hey, pretty thang/Let me tell you/I was raised on the Rolling Stones/I cut my teeth on the Allman Brothers/and Billy Gibbons' tone/I'm bad on Fords and Chevrolets/But I'll be good to you!"
The album closes with "Stone Blind Horses'" a moving acoustic celebration of life and plea for a little grace: "I been riding stone blind horses/never seen a reason to believe/Hey, sweet Genevieve/say a prayer for me/your wild young cowboys, old drunks, and thieves."
Ray Wylie Hubbard's a storyteller's storyteller, and on this album, he leads us on more unforgettable journeys with denizens of rough-and-tumble worlds who reveal to us what it to live life as we find it, not as we wish it might be.