Ray Wylie Hubbard’s new album is a crooked tree with the carcass of a tire swing hanging from it. It is an oil painting laying face down in the dust of an old abandoned wood house. It is a muddy river . . . of blood. It is the skeleton springs of a mattress stuck fast in years of growth of a blackberry bush. Its torn stockings on a street corner. It is a bone necklace that can be heard but not seen. It is moonlight on tough, weathered skin. It is stringy gray hair and shell beads.
Enlightment, Endarkenment is a wild and pure mixture of gothic country and dirty blues that could only be emitted from a soul settled in Texas. It is surprisingly fresh and relevant. This is no epitaph of a once high-riding Country Outlaw, this is him refusing to get down off the horse. It is dirty, muddy, sweaty, cold, disheveld, yet precise in its own way all the same.
The album is exquisitely produced, of which Hubbard himself is responsible for. I wouldn’t second guess the approach to any song. So many modern albums want that dirty, perfectly imperfect sound, and have visions of space, minimalism, percussion, dynamics, and natural reverb, but in the end the conception doesn’t reach the desired effect. This is one of those albums when it does; it is the kind of album that makes other artists want those aforementioned things in their recordings. This is the kind of album parody forms to the left of.
I guess it goes without saying that a Ray Wylie Hubbard album will have strong lyrics, but that doesn’t make this particular effort any less enchanting. Hubbard’s lyricism seems so effortless, commanding and true it makes you sick, and specific to this album, the marriage between the themes of the lyrics and the shades of the music is near perfect. The words are so rich at times it makes your head spin, but then almost in anticipation of this, Hubbard dramatically simplifies to a standard blues progression, or even to chanting, making the words almost irrelevant as communication, but more like blunt primal objects to make noise with, pummeling you with them until your heart is submissive to the beat.
Can you tell if I like this album or not?
Hubbard isn’t playing country blues on this album, he is defining them. One of the stand out tracks from the album is “Down Home Country Blues,” where he’s teaching the ropes and breathing life into the “country blues” mix of roots music. Nobody ever made gearhead talk so cool.
“Now you can take some Black Diamond strings and put ’em on a J45.
You hit them chords, you get that thump, you’re down right sanctified.
You can take a lipstick pickup and play it through a Fender Tweed,
It’s so sweet, so Goddamn sweet when it squeals, squalls, and bleeds.”
There are so many great songs on this album, but if there were any hits they would be “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” co-written and previously-released by Hayes Carll, or “Loose,” probably the most straightforward song of the album, but still distinctively Hubbard. His voice is surprisingly strong and solid, meeting the challenge of the up tempo and full sound, and surprise surprise, the lyrics are wicked and wise:
“She called me up one time and said let’s go get tattoos.
I said well let me brush my teeth and find my shoes.
She come down the street, in a stolen Volkswagen.
She smiled and said she’d decided on a crimson Chinese dragon.”
I will say I openly second guess the title of this album, which is in toto: A. Enlightenment B. Endarenment (Hint: There is no C), and I also second guess the use of that song as the title track. I’ve warmed up to the track since first listen, but it is one of the album’s weakest in my opinion. I just want my album titles to be nice and ordered, without ancillary punctuation or need for explanation. So I will be calling it Enlightenment, Endarkenment henceforth.
But I will be calling on it, possibly again and again, just like I can’t stop listening to it. In my opinion, and yes, I’ve taken a breather from it, slept on it, drank a cool glass of water, but in my opinion, this album is just as good, if not better than anything put out in 2009, and quite possibly might be the best, or one of the best albums that will be put out in 2010. It is that good. It is that great.
In a word, this album is an accomplishment.
Enlightenment, Endarkenment will be released on Jan. 12th, 2010.