Eccentric, outlaw poet-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard has created another collaborative album of pure joy.
Late bloomers of the world can take heart at the career of Ray Wylie Hubbard. The 75-year-old Oklahoma-born and mostly Texas-raised iconoclastic artist was always a talented songwriter, but he began writing some of the best songs of his career a little over twenty years ago, in his newly sober forties and fifties. ‘Co-Starring Too,’ a second album of collaborations with his famous friends and admirers, continues his streak of going from strength to strength.
It is easy to reflexively write off an album with so many collaborators and enough “ft.”’s to rival a hip hop album. It would be unwise to do that here. Hubbard’s friends have clearly jumped at the chance to work with him because it’s so much fun, not to make up for anything lacking in Hubbard’s writing or performance. He recruited, among others, Ringo Starr, Hayes Carll, James McMurty, Dalton Domino, Steve Earle, Lzzy Hale, John 5, Willie Nelson, Ann Wilson, Eve Monsees, Kathy Valentine, Wynonna Judd, and Charlie Sexton.
As the author of 2003’s anthem of Texan exceptionalism, ‘Screw You, We’re From Texas,’ it’s not surprising that he included another sharp-witted pro-Texas song here, ‘Texas Wild Side,’ crammed full of totally believable colorful Lone Star State characters, including skeevy politicians, gangsters drinking with cops, and braless hippie girls. ‘Hellbent for Leather,’ his gloriously hard-rocking song with Steve Earle, was recently described by our Jonathan Aird as following “in a lengthy tradition of songs that tell LA were it can stick itself, whilst heading for pastures if not new then at least slightly saner.”
‘Groove’ is a master-class tribute to soul music, with a head-spinning number of songs and artists name-dropped in a short amount of time. Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, and Cody Canada join Hubbard on the sexy ‘Even If My Wheels Fall Off.’ ‘Stone Blind Horses,’ with Willie Nelson is poignant and introspective, looking back over a crazy life and asking “sweet Genevieve” to “pray for me, and the lying cowboys, old drunks, paramours, and thieves.” Band of Heathens joins him on ‘Desperate Man,’ which he co-wrote with Eric Church in 2018. The swampy groove of ‘Pretty Reckless’ (with Wynonna Judd) doesn’t quite keep up with the other rockers on the album, but the louche female character he paints disqualifies it from being a throwaway track: “She’s bettin’ everything on black lipstick / she’s got a double tambourine / she dances around like Stevie Nicks … Sometimes she pretends she’s Marianne Faithfull / Young and strung out in a South of France chateau.” ‘
Hubbard wasn’t exactly treated well by the southern California music establishment, and he hasn’t enjoyed the mainstream success that the kind of artists he gives the side-eye to on ‘Fancy Boys’ have. He didn’t even get to play the Ryman Auditorium until 2017 at the request of The Cadillac Three. It’s not often that the gruff voice of decades of experience and misadventure sounds this fiery.