On the even better The Grifter's Hymnal (Bordello), he sounds just as ornery, though he's in a rowdier mood, frequently waxing poetic about the redemptive power of old-school rock 'n' roll—you just don't come across new albums that name-check the James Gang, the Doors, and Otis Rush anymore. On "South of the River," which sounds like a cross between southern-fried boogie and outlaw country (Hubbard wrote the classic "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," a minor hit for Jerry Jeff Walker), Hubbard refers to rock as a kind of deadly force: "There's some homicidal bands that still rock like that / They'll cut your throat with bass, drums, Les Pauls, and Strats." (Listen for yourself below.) He pushes that idea again on "Lazarus," waxing romantic about the hardscrabble music life:
So here we are now, kinda like abandoned dogs
Wrapped up in gunnysacks and singing cast iron songs
We're weird old America
We're grinning with sharp teeth
We're beautiful on the surface and rotten underneath
He gets autobiographical on "Mother Blues," telling the story of a naive youthful infatuation with a stripper who repeatedly pawned his beloved "Goldtop" Les Paul guitar before they split up ("We broke up and she went to Hollywood, she married an actor / She got a job dancing on the Hudson Brothers TV show"). Then he talks-sings about how his son now plays that same instrument—in fact he's playing it on "Mother Blues." "Red Badge of Courage" is a predictable but effective antiwar song inspired by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (though replacing "middle eastern sun" with some other kind of sun wouldn't do much to weaken the kicker: "We was just kids doing the dirty work for the failures of old men"), while "Train Yard" uses loads of vintage blues idioms to describe a fleeting sexual liaison.
I suppose you could criticize for Hubbard for making music as if the past few decades had never happened, but personally I'd need a better reason to dismiss the power and grit of his music. He plays SPACE in Evanston on Wednesday night in a duo with drummer Kyle Schneider.
photo: Todd Wolfson
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