There’s a lot missing from today’s music, no matter what genre you might be speaking about. That’s one of the reasons listeners are turning to back catalogs more and more, and are relying on ol’ tried and true artists for their musical fixes. It’s not just the lack of soul or originality in today’s music, or as one sage performer likes to put it, the “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 the 75-year-old Ray Wylie Hubbard, and his Co-Starring Too to stick it to this repressed, pearl-clutching era of popular music. Even more so 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 iconic song “Stone Blind Horses”—this is a blues rock record, even bounding into 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 looks from your significant other be damned. I don’t know what’s gotten into Ray Wylie Hubbard, but Co-Starring Too is anything but retread and tired. It’s a grizzly ol’ middle finger to bad music.
Ray Wylie should add “attitude” to his “grit, groove, tone, and taste” maxim, because that’s what he exudes all over this album. “Naturally Wild” with Lzzy Hale and John 5 might be the best real rock song you’ll hear all year, with the hero of the song screaming “You band sucks!” to some poor corporate rock outfit in Austin, and ending the song in the back of a police car. “Texas Wild Side” with The Last Bandoleros pulls no punches about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Lone Star State, poeticized like only Ray Wylie Hubbard can do.
“Fancy Boys” with Hayes Carll, James McMurtry, and Dalton Domino squares up Nashville pop country, and slobber knocks it into next week, growling, “Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day in a Cadillac Fleetwood. Now fancy boys prance around on stages where Waylon once stood.” Oof! Hopefully Twitter does find some way to be offended. He also manages to reference Dylan’s “…vandals took the handle” line in “Fancy Boys,” and later refers to the Star Wars Kessel run in another song. Ray hasn’t just held onto his edge and attitude, he’s still got his songwriting fastball zinging.
That said, some of the vocal deliveries on Co-Starring Too are, well, a little off the plate, which you’ll have upon occasion on a duet record, especially with so many different collaborators. Sometimes the wonky alignment is a symptom of trying to fit too many words into too short of a phrase, or sometimes it’s just trying to keep things loose, but then coming off as 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 going for is “pretty.” But you would like for things to line up a little better here and there.
With songs like “Pretty Reckless,” “Groove” with Kevin Russell and Shinyribs, and most especially on “Only A Fool” with The Bluebonnets, there’s a lot of paying homage to the beauty and virtuosity of women on this record. “Only a Fool” takes it almost to the point of obsequiousness, with Hubbard outright screaming “A woman is the best thing that every took place!” by the end.
What Ray Wylie Hubbard seems to be doing here is righting an injustice found historically in blues music by presenting the opposite side of the coin. You think that classic rock is full of misogyny? It’s because it was influenced by old blues music where women are regularly cast as the devil. As a blues man first and foremost, Ray Wylie looks to offer a spirited counterpoint to this long-standing blues tradition of disparaging 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 collaborations like this that swing back and forth between all sorts of genres, some tracks will hit you hard, and some might miss entirely, and what those songs will be depends on who is listening. So go cherry picking through if need be, but everyone with find something delicious, no matter your sensibilities.
Considering Co-Starring Too as a whole—and once again cautioning the country crowd that there’s little twang to be found here—what Ray Wylie Hubbard does is put into practice all the things he preaches, not just berating what’s wrong with today’s music, but giving examples of what is missing, and why. This is the “Wylie Llama” at work, communicating to the younger generation what he was taught when he was coming up so these musical truths don’t get lost.
Ray Wylie Hubbard’s not ready to be out-to-pasture himself though. Far from it. He is still here in the flesh, giving it his all, moaning, scratching, screaming, and testifying, trying to save music from the onslaught of sameness and safety compromising so many of today’s tunes.
1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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