There’s a lot missing in today’s music, no matter what genre you’re talking about. It’s one of the reasons why listeners are increasingly turning to back catalogs and relying on old, proven artists for their music solutions. It’s not just the lack of soul or originality in today’s music, or as one wise performer likes to say, “grit, groove, tone and taste.” It’s that the danger that was once at the heart of music is no longer there.
Leave it to none other than 75-year-old Ray Wylie Hubbard and his Also co-starred to stick it to this repressed era and pearl of popular music. More than the first installment of this collaborative effort, aside from the opening song – which is a brilliant and beautiful duet with Willie Nelson on Ray’s signature song “Stone Blind Horses” – this is a record blues rock, even going as far as hard rock. and heavy metal in moments. It’s also a walk on the wild side of life.
This album will have you blowing speaker cones and doing air guitar poses on coffee tables – sideways glances from your significant other be damned. I don’t know what happened to Ray Wylie Hubbard, but Also co-starred is anything but retread and tired. It’s a grizzly ol’ middle finger to bad music.
Ray Wylie should add “attitude” to his maxim “grit, groove, tone and taste”, because that’s what he exudes throughout this album. “Naturally Wild” featuring Lzzy Hale and John 5 might be the best true rock song you’ll hear all year, with the song’s hero shouting “You band sucks!” to a bad corporate rock outfit in Austin, and finish the song in the back of a police cruiser. “Texas Wild Side” with The Last Bandoleros ignores the good, the bad and the ugly of the Lone Star State, poetized as only Ray Wylie Hubbard can.
“Fancy Boys” with Hayes Carll, James McMurtry and Dalton Domino sets Nashville pop country, and drool brings it down next week, grumbling, “Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day in a Cadillac Fleetwood. Now whimsical boys roam the stages where Waylon once stood. Phew! Let’s hope Twitter finds a way to be offended. He also manages to reference Dylan’s “…the vandals have taken the handle” line in “Fancy Boys”, and later refers to the star wars Kessel ran into another song. Ray has not only retained his edge and attitude, he still has his songwriting zinging fastball.
That said, some of the voice deliveries on Also co-starred are, well, a little offbeat, which you’ll get on a duo record on occasion, especially with so many different collaborators. Sometimes wobbly alignment is a symptom of trying to cram too many words into a sentence that’s too short, or sometimes it’s just trying to keep things loose, but then turn out to be sloppy, like the word salad that transpires in the otherwise well-written “Pretty Reckless” with Wynonna and Jaimee Harris. The last thing Ray Wylie Hubbard is looking for is “pretty”. But you would like things to line up a little better here and there.
With songs like “Pretty Reckless,” “Groove” featuring Kevin Russell and the Shinyribs, and most notably “Only A Fool” featuring The Bluebonnets, there are plenty of tributes to female beauty and virtuosity on this disk. “Only a Fool” goes almost to the point of obsequiousness, with Hubbard outright shouting “A woman is the best thing that ever happened!” at the end.
What Ray Wylie Hubbard seems to be doing here is righting a historically noted injustice in blues music by presenting the other side of the coin. Do you think classic rock is laced with misogyny? This is because he was influenced by old blues music where women are regularly portrayed as the devil. As a blues man first and foremost, Ray Wylie seeks to offer a fiery counterpoint to this longstanding blues tradition of denigrating women by instead putting them on a pedestal, both with his lyrics and his collaborations.
Similar to the original Co-starring, when you have so many wild collabs like this that swing between all kinds of genres, some tracks will hit you hard, and some might miss you completely, and what those songs will be will depend on who’s listening. So go there if need be, but everyone will find something delicious, no matter how sensitive you are.
Considering Also co-starred as a whole – and once again warning the country crowd that there is little twang to be found here – what Ray Wylie Hubbard does is practice all the things he preaches, not just reprimanding what wrong with today’s music, but giving examples of what is missing, and why. He’s the “Wylie Llama” at work, communicating to the younger generation what he was taught when he was rising so that those musical truths don’t get lost.
Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t ready to be on the loose himself. Far from there. It’s still there in the flesh, giving it its all, moaning, scratching, screaming and testifying, trying to save the music from the onslaught of similarity and security compromising so many of today’s tunes.
1 3/4 raised guns (7.5/10)
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