Hubbard sings of life lived on the edge
ALBANY After all the hard miles, Ray Wylie Hubbard seemed in some sort of late-career overdrive at WAMC’s The Linda on Monday. Handcuffed to a snarky early novelty hit (“Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”), plagued by plenty of personal problems in times past and mauled by the myth that there are no second acts in American lives, Hubbard has evolved from a hard-touring Texas rocker into a newer-Age — we’re talking older and wiser — Americana troubadour.
In other words, there was plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’ and long lines at the bar while Hubbard and his young guitarist son Lucas (19, today) delivered pungent prairie picaresques and poetized philosophy. Mostly composed of grizzled shaggy dudes like Hubbard himself, with many miles on the odometer and shrugging off the tolls, fans cheered his tales of lives lived on the dusty edge of dead-end towns — and on the edge of the moral code and criminal justice system.
There were guns, gambling, fortune-telling and fights — much of it right in his own family — and fun, since Hubbard has survived it all and lived to tell about it with equal parts raffishness and Rilke, really.
He drawled about finding romance at a “Snake Farm” and a bar called “Mother’s Blues” (where he met his wife, Lucas’s mother), recalled the hazards of limited but too-specific dreams (a stripper girlfriend and a gold-top Les Paul) and explained that a “Mississippi Flush” beats a royal flush: It’s a small revolver and any five cards.
Hubbard’s greatest gift may be mixing the profound with the preposterous: In the autobiographical “Mother’s Blues” he proclaimed any day when his gratitude exceeds his expectations is a good one. “The Messenger” cited lessons from Rilke, he found cosmic correspondence between a roadside crow and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ music and level ground between Muddy Waters and Lord Byron. At the other end of the spectrum, the encore “Choctaw Bingo” was deliciously rude.
The man was a stitch and a stretch, as adroit a songwriting wordsmith as Willie Nelson or Rodney Crowell and — just staying with Texans, now – as distinctive and strong a singer as Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
Unannounced opener Dustin Welch — son of singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, staying with that father-and-son thing — ambitiously claimed the whole Texas singer-songwriter tradition of frontier rawness, poetic sensitivity and personal mythmaking as his own. His reach somewhat exceeded his grasp, however, though the pop-y Jim Croce bounce of “Jolly Johnny Jumper” and the rude criminal defense ditty “Don’t Tell ‘Em Nothin’” gave good lift.