Ray Wylie Hubbard,
Crusades of the Restless Knights
(Uni, 1999)

Here's another nominee that's bound to be in the year-end running for album of the year.

Ray Wylie Hubbard's new CD, Crusades of the Restless Knights, is a very spiritual one, but more in tune with Buddhism than what's authorized by the Southern Baptist Convention. Still, the lyrics and presentation still remind me of a tent-revival preachin' on a night when you just know some folks are gonna get their toes stepped on. And, it's the truth he's preachin' -- though not necessarily the Gospel truth. Why, even when he's being cantankerous, Ray still has that big ol' gleam in his eye.

You know he's on the attack from the first song, "Crows," when you hear the line, "Even crows act like eagles when they find a dyin' snake." You can't miss the great mandolin-playing of Stephen Bruton, which is in the instrumental forefront of this song.

Hubbard's best and most heart-felt vocal performance this go-'round comes in "The Lovers In Your Dreams" -- a vocal performance that is no less than brilliant. This interesting song may deal as much with out-of-body experiences as mere dreaming.

In "Conversation with the Devil" we learn of a hell filled with preachers who "walk around thinking they're better than me and you," "cops on the take" and "mothers who spank their kids at Kmart" just because it's the easy thing to do. Heaven is populated by "beautiful old souls ... who care and share and love and try to do what's right."

The songs in this collection contain frequent references to the Bible, hymnals, prayers, dyin', the cross, thorns, heaven, hell, angels, ghosts, grace, Jesus, Buddha, rapture and the Promised Land.

Ray continues his conversational style of singing and, in the CD notes, delightfully adds a couple of sentences of almost-explanation to each song. After one, he wrote: "I started this song while touring in Europe and finished it on the Chama River in New Mexico. A lot happened in between."

A little mini-concept album is dropped into the middle of the CD and is made up of the songs "Red Dress," "The River Bed" and "This River Runs Red." Those songs would make a great EP.

Many of Hubbard's songs continue to deal with dangerous women and other temptations. My favorite cut, though, is the bluegrass number, "After The Harvest." It is seemingly the simplest song on the CD, but actually gives you plenty to think about.

The only complaint we have is that we would like to hear Terry "Buffalo" Ware's lead guitar contributing to more than just two songs.

[ by Bill McCloud ]



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