Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard pushed life to the margin and lived to sing about it. In the process, his songs now possess the tenderness of a poet, the empathy of a historian, and the raw nerve of a card shark. On 2009’s A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), he adds "mythmaker" to his songwriting qualities. Hubbard strips his music to the bone here, and uses the Mississippi Delta blues tradition to his own ends. His music is raw yet utterly contemporary and crafted. Snarling acoustic, slide, and electric guitars played bottleneck style, dirty mandolins, pots, pans, stomp boxes, basses, organs, harmoniums, drums, rattles, shakers, and tambourines are the instruments that fuel this impressive collection. On “Down Home Country Blues,” Hubbard is visceral, and you can feel it in your belly bone: “Sugar’s got some sweetness to it as do my baby’s lips/When she hears some ole Howlin’ Wolf, she’s got to move her hips...I’m partial to Hooker, playing 'Crawlin’ King Snake'/I can say that Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake.” Blues is the backbone of Hubbard’s sound here, but it's not the only one. “Drunken Poet’s Dream” (written with Hayes Carll) sounds like Rimbaud singing Americana in a honky tonk: “I got a woman who’s wild as Rome/She likes bein’ naked and gazed upon/She crosses a bridge and sets it on fire/She lands like a bird on a telephone wire/There’s some money on the table/There’s a gun on the floor/There’s some paperback books by Louis L’Amour....“
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. “Loose” is a seductive jangling rock anthem, illustrated by a floating B-3, a slippery bassline, and open, ringing guitars. Hubbard sings about the nature of sensual pleasures in the voice of a woman his protagonist loves unconditionally. The set ends with banjo, fiddle, and his vocal singing “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” This is the Book of Revelations in a rattling country-gospel blues in Southern gothic terms; it's a brooding, menacing tune, the mirror image of the earlier resurrection chant "Whoop and Holler." Hubbard is a visionary songwriter. His musical language is so potent it conveys large ideas, secret histories, and hidden truths without excess lyrics or production. This leathery roots record contains music that bridges the gap between frail flesh and powerful spirit ruggedly, sensually, and honestly, making it a work of high art.