Black Music Matters Festival

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Co-Starring – 2020 (Big Machine Label Group)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

See it on Amazon

The country music world was more than a little surprised by the news of Big Machine Records signing Ray Wylie Hubbard. This, after all, is the label home for mainstream stars Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Sugarland and the former label residence of pop superstar Taylor Swift. Hubbard, in contrast - as 'one of these things is not like the other' - is an original country music outlaw, having famously written Jerry Jeff Walker's hit, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." What was a roughneck like this grizzled veteran doing on a shiny mainstream label like BMR? Well, if you were expecting Big Machine Records to spiffy Hubbard up for better mainstream consumption, you'd be wrong. Hubbard sounds to have made this album on his own terms, like an actor that was granted the right to be producer and director and also choose all his co-stars.

Every song features a guest or two (hence the "Co-Starring" title), and much of the album is more rock and blues-oriented, rather than strictly country. One song (which also features Pam Tillis' singing), for instance, is even named after a bluesman, "Mississippi John Hurt." However, if you're seeking a wonderfully memorable white trash country song, look no further than "Drink 'Til I See Double," which includes Paula Nelson and Elizabeth Cook's accompanying vocals. The song's chorus includes Hubbard's bleary-eyed prediction: "I'm gonna drink 'till I see double/Then take one of you home." Now that's a country lyric! "Outlaw Blood" links an older outlaw with a newer one, as Ashley McBryde sings with Hubbard on it. McBryde is one tough chick and one of the few modern females that can sound as authentically outlaw as Hubbard.

Hubbard closes with "The Messenger," which is mostly acoustic and slightly orchestrated. Ronnie Dunn and Tillis help Hubbard sing it. The song's message nicely sums up Hubbard's artistic role. It's his mission statement, if you will, to "stand and deliver" the truth. His message may not always be pretty, but it's always sincere and oftentimes funny. Also, in contrast to the album's title, this effort is all about its star.