Is Ray Wylie Hubbard a country artist? Is he a bluesman? Is he a rocker? Well, he's all those things at any given moment, and doesn't seem to worry about where you file his album as long as you give it a fair hearing. Hubbard's long been a man who does things his own way, and at the age of 68, he's more determined than ever to make music on his own terms and no one else's. That strategy is working pretty well for him, too. 2015's The Ruffian's Misfortune is a tough, fierce, and joyous album full of great songs and performances that suggest Hubbard has taken over Rufus Thomas' position as the World's Oldest Teenager, singing with the ferocity of a man a third his age and a confidence informed by every single day of his life. With Gabe Rhodes and Lucas Hubbard joining Ray Wylie on guitars and Rick Richards on drums, The Ruffian's Misfortune is full of fine, smoky grooves with just the right amount of gravel-road growl, and the quiet songs like "Barefoot in Heaven" and "Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten" are played and sung with a strength that rivals rowdy hell-raisers like "Bad on Fords" and "Chick Singer Badass Rockin'," the latter a high-octane tribute to women with guitars and attitude in equal proportion. Hubbard can sound defiant, sorrowful, or compassionate with the same degree of emotional power, and whether he's bragging about bad deeds or mourning a life gone wrong, Hubbard's lyrics are both intelligent and perceptive, and he draws his characters with a clarity that's artful but never pretentious. And at less than 35 minutes, The Ruffian's Misfortune never wastes a note: Hubbard and his band hit their marks and conjure a rich and colorful world with a few well-applied brushstrokes. Ray Wylie Hubbard cut his first album in 1975, but The Ruffian's Misfortune shows the man is doing some of the very best work of his career 40 years on, and anyone who cares about American roots music in any form would do themselves a favor by adding this set to their collection.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming