RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
The Grifter’s Hymnal
“At least we ain’t Lazarus and have to think twice about dying,” the grizzled Hubbard philosophizes … and with song titles like “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell” these songs offer a glimpse of Hubbard’s world of “no future and a hell of a past.” One can’t be sure whether Hell on Earth is any better or worse than it may be in the afterlife in his erudite, libidinous and primal writing, riddled with southern gothicism that seems about midway between Flannery O’Connor’s and Legendary Shackshakers’. Imagine Hieronymus Bosch as a contemporary Oklahoma guy washed in the fevered blood of southern Protestantism’s weird fringes.
Hubbard’s slide guitar heightens the dangerous vibe on this sometimes autobiographical swamp rock nightmare/dreamscape of snake tattoos, ghosts, demons and high-heeled women. There’s no apparent repentance among characters “grinning with sharp teeth.” Then, after reliving Sam Cooke’s murder and his killer’s quick acquittal, Hubbard turns to an old bluesman’s refrain, “I believe I’ll count my blessings.” — Bruce Sylvester