Personnel: Ray Wylie Hubbard (vocals, electric & resonator slide guitars); Scrappy Jud Newcomb (vocals, electric guitar); Jon Dee Graham (vocals, lap steel guitar); Darcie Deaville (vocals, fiddle); Mary Gunthier (vocals); Gurf Morlix (acoustic, electric & 12-string guitars, mandocello, bass, tambourine, sound effects); Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne, Buddy Miller (electric guitar); Rick Richards (drums).
Recorded at Rootball Studio, Austin, Texas.
Personnel: Ray Wylie Hubbard (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, resonator guitar); Gurf Morlix (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, slide guitar, mandocello, tambourine, hand claps); Jud Newcomb (vocals, electric guitar); Jon Dee Graham (vocals, lap steel guitar); Darcie Deaville (vocals, fiddle); Mary Gauthier (vocals); Buddy Miller (electric guitar); Rick Richards (drums, snare drum, djembe, sound effects).
Anybody who has followed the development of Ray Wylie Hubbard as an artist over the last dozen years or so has had to be keenly aware that he's been moving through changes in lyric style, melodic invention, and production styles. He's also been on a spiritual odyssey in his music that culminated on the excellent Eternal & Lowdown. Growl is a record of an awareness gained; it is expressed in the most basic, elemental physical and emotional truths (from humor to doubt to surrender to anger at hypocrisy) in these songs. The truth expressed on Growl -- the most aptly named of all Hubbard's recordings -- is in a dirty-hands, mud-romping, greasy, rock & roll inbred with Delta blues. This is music comprised of exposed innards, cutting honesty, scab-ripping emotion, and pure, badass Texas attitude. Produced by Gurf Morlix -- he also minded the store on Eternal & Lowdown -- the band is basically Hubbard (on lead -- a first -- and slide guitars), Morlix (on bass and lead guitars), and Rick Richards (drums), with guests including Mary Gauthier, Scrappy Judd, Buddy Miller, and Jon Dee Graham. And it should be noted that Hubbard has become a heck of a guitar player in the last six years. There isn't a weak cut on the set, all of it drenched in the midnight smoke and grit of the blues as it couples with early rock & roll under a blood-red moon. The set opens with "Knives of Spain," which features a killer guitar part by Miller. It's a songwriter's spiritual, full of "ifs" that have already come to pass for Hubbard, which is why he can write from the craggy fissure in the center of the song's truth: "If I had some poet's wings/I would fly to New Orleans/I'd rhyme my trials and misdeeds/So if you cut the words they would bleed/And in the night when I'm all alone/And the sadness goes to the bone/I'd make the words in the refrain/As lethal as the knives of Spain." As he continues, and the band turns up the volume, bringing the tension to the breaking point, it becomes evident that all of this has already come to pass in Hubbard. His haunted voice speaks that this is the other side of the desert of revelation: it's not bliss, not rapture, but a sincere, if bloodied, gratitude and the desire to always tell a truth so mucky and messy it cuts to the bone. One could write an entire essay on this song alone, or stop here, taking it in over and over, deep within oneself, and never get to the bottom of its mystery. But Hubbard's not done; he revisits the past on "No Lie," a paean to giving up the wasted life and becoming immersed in the roots of his inspiration. Growl is not only about bad luck, hard-won wisdom, and knowledge, though. "Name Droppin'" is one of the lightest-weight tunes Hubbard's ever written, but its groove is eternal, it's backbone-slipping, humpin'-on-the-box-springs, sweating blues in raw-rock overdrive. Guitars and fiddles undulate against the rhythm section in a sinful, copulating embrace that feels so good it's a miracle it's still legal. "Purgatory Road" is a blues-drenched painting by Thomas Hart Benton. It's rough truth -- stark, knife-slashing images without judgment or anything but reportorial calm. Welcome to the hard times; this is where darkness and light don't know how to identify themselves, let alone one another. "Bones" is almost a part two with hoodoo thrown in, and the redemption in the song is in the slide blues itself. This is bottleneck playing honed razor sharp, and can be praised for plenty in its lyric and melody, but the fineness of its blue-black slash groove is enough. "Preacher" is an indictment of hypocrisy, but it's not obvious; it's rooted in the same tradition as Mississippi Fred McDowell's -- he didn't need the minister, he encountered his God personally and let the struggle of that truth come out in his playing. "Rock-n-Roll Is a Vicious Game" is a stomping throb that is equal parts roots rock smoker and is the warning side of an earlier Hubbard song, "Loco Gringos Lament," or could have been the story of the L.A. band Sublime or one of 100 other bands. The cosmic, in Hubbard's own trademark way, is revisited on "Stolen Horses," with a wrist-slipping resonator guitar burn leading his musings on reincarnation. The groove takes the body down the slippery spine road to a place where it wishes for another chance at a smoky, shimmering groove like this one and the mind to place where perhaps it considers the subject in a different, more sensual way. The album closes with a country-rocker destined to be (in)famous, "Screw You, We're From Texas," an anthem that tells the fools who don't understand his music to f&%$ off. "It's Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother," without the drunken pathos, is humor disguised as punked-out roots rock (early ZZ Top meets the White Stripes). It works, but I'm glad it's the album's final track and not its first -- and that's not a criticism. The highest praise that can be heaped on Growl is that perhaps it should have been released on Fat Possum, the now-legendary Delta label that releases the raw-as-steamy blues records of masters such as R.L. Burnside, the late Junior Kimbrough, Paul "Wine" Jones, and the Jelly Roll Kings. It would have fit without a glitch. This is for rollin' in the hay, fighting in the mud, twisting between the sheets, and turning your partner out all over the dancehall floor; and when it's over, you'll be dirty, sweaty, grimy, and grateful to be alive to enjoy the murkier pleasures of the earth, the flesh, and the spirit. ~ Thom Jurek