Album Review: A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C) by Ray Wylie Hubbard
Excellent, Based on 4 Critics
Slant Magazine - 90 Based on rating 4.5/5
Having already made a strong case for himself as one of the finest Southern songwriters as long ago as the mid-1970s, Ray Wylie Hubbard, like so many of his contemporaries, might have lost his ability to surprise somewhere along his meandering, hard-living path. But A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), his first album since 2006’s terrific Snake Farm, is nonetheless an astonishing work of contemporary observations and cockeyed poetry.
Some dangerous spirits adorn these songs: black sparrows hang around the swampy title cut where “...Heaven pours down rain and lightnin’ bolts....” Stomp box, harmonium, mandolins, and acoustic guitar reveal that Hubbard’s comfortable with both choices in the title. “Black Wings” describes life and music-making as a spiritual process that's not necessarily about choice; it's underscored by knife-edge slide guitars, drums, and shakers. In the ballad “Opium,” moaning voices and slide guitars languidly express the “elegant decay” an addict experiences, without judgment.
The vast expanse of desert soil we call Texas breeds a more cosmic brand of cowboy than you will encounter anywhere else in the world. Blame it on the heat, its richly diverse musical tradition, or the availability of cheap Mexican weed, but only the Lone Star State could spawn a man like Ray Wylie Hubbard. Ray Wylie Hubbard is one of the pillars of the Texas songwriting acropolis.
Any short list of top Austin artists of the last decade counts Ray Wylie Hubbard in its upper reaches. Eternal & Lowdown (2001), Growl (2003), Delirium Tremolos (2005), Snake Farm (2006), one after another, the Wimberley outlaw's output bumps 'n' grinds a bluesman's disposition and the lyricism of a fascist-killing folkie. Like Lucinda Williams, every blessed bon mot Hubbard drawls sounds lowdown – and eternal.