RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
A. ENLIGHTENMENT B. ENDARKENMENT (HINT: THERE IS NO C)
With a mouthful of gravel, rusty nails and busted glass, Texas grit-monger Ray Wylie Hubbard is more potent now than when he was lobbing the hippie/biker/redneck standard “Up Against the Wall (Redneck Mother),” which grew to anthemic proportions as the cornerstone of gonzo, Lone Star denizen Jerry Jeff Walker’s seminal Viva Terlingua. With a don’t-give-a-damn-swagger and no-pretense lyricism, Enlightment/Endarkenment offers clear-eyed, unapologetic, yet somehow deeply romantic tales of the rogue’s life in the 21st century.
Think of it as mystical biker country. There’s a definite cosmic thrust to the plunked tin guitar notes, the jingle-jangle tambourine, tattooed rhythms and a red-dust harmonica wheezing a spectral recap of the mostly blues, kinda country melodies. The title track is a white-lightning-and-black-magic bit of roadhouse sweat, a mantra on deliverance and reckoning that neither flinches nor postures, but just moans a witness that defies mortal reason.
“Drunken Poets Dream” is a meditation on the wages and rages of sin, as much carnal deliverance as knee-scraping wreckage. A defiant fist-shake at the shape he’s in, Hubbard lurches into the meaty electric guitar downstrokes and careens off the wide empty spaces that add a contrast to the confessional squalor. This is Bukowski in the old West.
The hip-tilting “Down Home Country Blues” is a straight-cut proposition with a laundry list of the things that make Hubbard’s woman’s pulse quicken. Giving way to the lowdown industrial grind of “Wasp’s Nest,” the groove undulates with a pendulum’s slow torture—as the electric guitar buzzes, sizzles and slides to match the parched-earth baritone’s ache.
Hubbard’s voice remains its own universe. It is life not just spent, but set on fire—its burned-out remains making even the most mundane somehow forbidden. The music-making shuffle of “Pots & Pans” offers “picking” in its most pedestrian form; halfway through the second verse, though, an “ahhhhh…” falls from his cracked lips that’s neither punctuation or device, and the pleasure is palpable. Erotic thrust overcoming the literal read, building to an almost pornographic series of guttural female response. Linda Lovelace’s pleasure-blazing has nothing on this musical deliverance.
The beauty is the contradictions. “Whoop & Holler” is pure Southern dirt-floor church salvation, while the banjo-driven “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is unabashedly, unapologetically biblical in its stark reportage of end times. Not judging, just recounting.
“Black Wings” offers broken redemption. For the ones subject to failing, this is the battered chance at the Pearly Gates—and the ragged Stones-toned “Loose” about a hooker and maintaining one’s suppleness in the tight spots suggests life is to live and forgiveness is truly ours if we want it. Even the lagging “Opium,” cautionary and bottomless, merges the pleasure with the gravity of its inevitability—citing “elegant decay” against that sliding National guitar.