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Ray Wylie Hubbard

The Grifter's Hymnal – 2012 (Bordello)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Ray Wylie Hubbard

Ray Wylie Hubbard salutes several of his musical influences on his latest release, with his usual biting humor and social commentary also intact. Music is a recurring theme in many of the songs beginning with the opening track Coricidin Bottle ("Said my prayers to the old black gods") in which he pays homage to the blues legends that inspired him early in his career.

In South of the River, Hubbard makes reference to Joe Walsh's early band the James Gang, while Hen House not only alludes to a preference for Small Faces over Fleetwood Mac, but features the Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen. Another of Hubbard's musical heroes appears on the lone cover, Ringo Starr's Coochy Coochy, on which Hubbard is joined by Starr on backup vocals, guitar and handclaps.

The amusing Mother Blues finds Hubbard reminiscing about his early days playing in the club that had once hosted Lightning Hopkins and Freddy King, and bonding nicely with a stripper he met after a show ("We hit it off like a metaphor/Like a metaphor for a hydrogen bomb/We was enriched uranium, super critical mass, we was a chain reaction").

One of the strongest tracks is the darkly humorous New Year's Eve at the Gates of Hell, a rambling stream of consciousness in which Hubbard asks "Why am I here when I wasn't that bad?/I just didn't like churches but I never wore plaid," makes observations such as "The truth of the matter is I really can't sing/But I can quote Martin Luther King" and "Seems God out sources his work to the devil/Like he's an employee on the vice squad/Appears like the devil is working for God."

Red Badge of Courage is a highlight in which Hubbard makes a more contemporary statement about the toll our recent wars have taken on the young people who serve in the military ("What do I say to these ghosts that keep coming round again?/We was just kids doing the dirty work for the failures of old men").

With Hubbard's brilliant compositions and stellar support from George Reiff (bassist and co-producer with Hubbard), Audley Freed and son Lucas Hubbard (guitars) and Rick Richards (drums), this is an impressive collection.