Although he'd no doubt reject as pretentious the title of theologian, ecclesiastical matters are never far from Ray Wylie Hubbard's mind. You can tell from the titles of his albums - "A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)", "The Grifter's Hymnal" - and the tracks therein, where he's either planning his celestial footwear ("Barefoot in Heaven") or escaping from hell by blowing smoke up the devil's derrierre ("Conversation with the Devil"). On his 17th CD, that still holds true.
And it's obvious even before you tear the plastic of the CD case. Hubbard sits on the cover, a pair of black wings on his back and a scowl on his face that might make Old Scratch reconsider whether he really wants a soul this surly. Hubbard may be hellbound in a hurry, as the title of this record suggests, but he probably won't stay there any longer than he did the first time.
"God Looked Around" is essentially a retelling of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis. Although in the King James version God doesn't say things like "Well, shucks, let there be light" nor does Adam say "Whoa, Lord, you done answered my prayers" upon first beholding Eve, they do in the RWH version. Then there's another conversation with the Devil in "Lucifer and the Fallen Angels." This time Ray makes the mistake of picking up Beelzebub and a couple of his buddies hitchhiking to Alabama ("It's better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, that's why I'm going to Mobile," Satan explains.) Before this ride is over, Hubbard is calling Lucifer Lou and abetting the Prince of Darkness in robbing Nervous Charlie's Fireworks and All-Night Liquor Store, even though Lou spends most of the trip trying to discourage Hubbard from continuing a career in music a la the beast that bedeviled Kris Kristofferson in his classic "To Beat the Devil."
Despite what you might expect, Satan does not actually show up in the title track, but Lucinda Williams and Eric Church make sure that you don't miss him. The name of the song is doubly misleading because this modern day version of life on the road, an Americana-infused update of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page, is a slow groove, and nobody's in a hurry.
It's not all theological however, in between the opening "God Looked Around" and "In Times of Cold," a Patty Griffin-assisted meditation on pleading one's case at the pearly gates, Hubbard finds time to give a lesson in alternate guitar tuning ("Open G") and a musical history of the undeservedly-obscure Minnesota folk trio Koerner, Ray and Glover ("Spider, Snake and Little Sun"). He also tells a haunting whore house ghost story on "White Rose Bouquet" and howls better than anybody since Warren Zevon on "Old Wolf."
But Hubbard always comes back to the spiritual realm. On the song "Prayer," he sings, "I'm not profound or perceptive / Most times I don't know what I'm saying / It's Likely God don't need to hear my prayers / He just needs to hear me praying,"
Which, like most of this album, sounds like profundity in disguise.