Ray Wylie Hubbard Crusades Of The Restless Knights

Hubbard, another in an improbably long list of incredibly talented Texas songwriters, will probably go to his grave best known as the author of “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” but as Crusades… ably demonstrates, there’s much more the man than that. It’s full of rich songs that are played simply and honestly. He kind of tips his hand with the title, so it’s not surprising to discover that the central theme of the album is faith, both the religious and the worldly kind. The record is anchored by “Conversations With The Devil,” a talking blues that finds the protagonist alternately arguing, quizzing, and sucking up to Ol’ Scratch. Hubbard’s voice has a homely, lived in, every man quality to it that lends the songs an added resonance, whether it’s the roadhouse hi-test of “Red Dress” or the bluesy mandolin-driven stomp of “Crows.” “The River Runs Red,” inspired by a Flannery O’Connor short story, is steeped in gospel fervour and Southern gothic imagery. He claimed he was going for a mythological bluegrass Buddhist Gnostic gospel hymn with “After The Harvest.” That might be a tad ambitious and overreaching, but he ended up with a tiny and lovely jewel nonetheless. Lloyd Maines produces as well as adding a slew of mostly slide type guitars and the band effortlessly combines country, rock, and blues. There’s nothing fancy here, but it’s incredibly rich and rewarding, as fertile as black delta soil. (Philo)