Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Ray Wylie Hubbard would like the devil to know he's on his way

By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // New album is a delightful journey through the mystical, poetic life of a truly amazing songwriter.

Robert Johnson, as legend tells it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for being able to properly play his guitar. One could be forgiven for beginning to think Ray Wylie Hubbard has made a similar arrangement.

While Hubbard probably isn't taking a stroll with ole Lucifer himself, as Johnson did in Me and the Devil Blues, the two have most definitely struck up a symbiotic relationship, highlighted in today's release of his latest album "Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can".

"Tell the Devil" opens with a thundering handclap of sound as the album spins up for the first track, God Looked Around, which skillfully and humorously tells the story of creation as only Hubbard could do. Snake Daddy (a RWH nickname) continues his slitherin' ways as the serpent first tempts the woman before being banished to the ground by God, reminding us that this is why "to this day they slither and hiss."

Much as the first track goes from the purity of creation to temptation and sin, so to does the album over the remaining ten songs, where in the final track In Times of Cold the narrator knows he'll at least get a chance at Heaven but is most likely to end up in Hell. Patty Griffin makes a delightful guest appearance harmonizing the chorus with Hubbard on the song.

Fans of 70-year-old Hubbard will instantly recognize these themes as ones he has incorporated into his music over the course of his long-running career. Like many musicians, Hubbard draws from a good deal of autobiographical material. His well documented story (his autobiography is a must-read) closely mirrors his musical themes of the myriad ways one can go straddle the line between damnation and salvation.

At his core, Hubbard is a songwriter of exceptional ability and also possesses some serious guitar chops, both with the dead thumb technique and with a slide on his finger. Dead Thumb King tells the story of the former while Open G is an audio lesson on alternate guitar tunings showcasing his slide work. For more information on his guitar playing, check out my profile from last summer.

Spider, Snake, and Little Sun departs from the autobiographical formula and relays the story of the trio that "look like sinister, low key criminals", but who are, in fact an anti-hero blues trio originating from Minnesota in the early 1960's. The song is a nod to the trio's 1963 album "Blues, Rags and Hollers", one of Hubbard's favorites.

The remainder of "Tell the Devil" is classic Hubbard, weaving tales that are some combination of reality, mysticism, and poetic license. Lucifer and the Fallen Angels is a deliciously catchy number telling the story of a road-weary musician heading to Nashville when he stops and picks up the devil and a couple of dark angels. Ole Lu' talks the narrator into running them down to Mobile, away from Nashville, the symbolism mirroring Hubbard's own career.

With mandolin infused sweetness accompanied with a B3 organ and exquisitely laid down guitar tracks, the title track is the shining star of the album. The song's title hides the fact that it is essentially a love song from Hubbard to his wife Judy, a tender ballad that has the narrator (Hubbard) constantly running down the oft-times wicked road of the touring musician, while simultaneously running toward the love that has been his steadfast rock. Eric Church and Lucinda Williams provide background vocal support, with Williams especially making the track one that cuts right to the soul.

"Tell the Devil" requires a careful listen to fully appreciate all of the nuances and layers to the album. Heading toward our own collective destinies, it most decidedly is time well spent.




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