Ray Wylie Hubbard/Hill Country Barbecue Market/June 1, 2017
Ray Wylie Hubbard was born in Soper, Oklahoma, but at age eight moved with his family to Dallas, Texas. While in college in Denton, Texas, he spent the summers playing folk music in Red River, New Mexico. During his time in New Mexico, Hubbard wrote “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” covered by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973. The success of the song led Hubbard to launch a solo career that has attracted a small but steady following for the past 44 years. His 16th studio album, Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can, will be released on August 18, 2017. Hubbard is currently based out of Wimberly, Texas.
Normally, Ray Wylie Hubbard tours with a backing trio featuring his son Lucas on guitar. On the current tour, which began at Hill Country Barbecue Market, Hubbard is touring with only his drummer, Kyle Schneider. As a result, his concert emphasized a fascinating guitar style that compensated for the lack of band support. Hubbard thumbed the top string, usually an open E, and used his forefingers to pick the lower strings. While that might sound like standard finger picking, it was not. Hubbard’s bass lines were thick and often hauntingly monotonous, while his melody lines were sparse and swampy, recalling Creedence Clearwater Revival. This undercurrent magnified Hubbard’s gritty, muscular voice and his signature sardonic and whimsical outlaw country lyrics with their rowdy sing-along choruses. At age 70, Hubbard may not be blazing new trails, but he remains among the best of the remaining outlaw country writers and performers.
Billy Joe Shaver/Hill Country Barbecue Market/June 1, 2017
Billy Joe Shaver was born in Corsicana, Texas, and as a boy sometimes accompanied his mother to her job at a local nightclub, where he listened to country music. Working at a lumber mill, one day his right hand (his dominant hand) became caught in the machinery, and he lost the better part of two fingers. He eventually taught himself to play the guitar without those missing fingers. In 1966, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where two years later he worked as a songwriter for $50 per week. Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, the Allman Brothers Band, and Elvis Presley recorded his songs over time, but Waylon Jennings recorded nine Shaver songs on his breakthrough 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes, largely considered the first outlaw country music album. That same year, Shaver began a solo career. His 17th and most recent studio album is 2014’s Long in the Tooth. He currently lives in Waco, Texas.
Shaver had to cancel a couple of show in April due to heart problems, but despite death-bed rumors at the time, the 77-year-old singer/songwriter seemed better than new at Hill Country Barbecue Market. He told the audience that he would perform songs that he had written throughout his career, and then proceeded to sing close to 40 of them. He sang with limited range and he barely played guitar, letting his longtime guitarist, Jeremy Woodall, do the musical heavy lifting, but the set demonstrated some of the rudimentary elements that ultimately defined outlaw country music. Shaver’s combination of clever songwriting, unpolished vocal delivery, and country melodies, especially embellished with Woodhall’s rocking guitar leads, were electrifying. Few of the original outlaw country artists are still performing, so Shaver’s “Live Forever” was particularly poignant. May his music live forever!
Wheeler Walker/Bowery Ballroom/June 6, 2017
Although he may deny it from the stage, potty-mouthed country music singer-songwriter Wheeler Walker, Jr. appears to be the alter-ego of comedian Ben Hoffman. While many rappers and even the president of the United States have spoken more graphically about sexual subjects, Wheeler Walker Jr. is controversial firstly because this is country music and secondly because despite its humorous intent, nearly all his songs are entirely rife with sexually graphic content. Walker’s 2016 first album debuted in the top 10 of both comedy and country charts. Take him seriously or not, Walker reportedly has said that it was not a comedy album but “real life,” yet the album was the second best-selling comedy album of 2016. His second album, Ol Wheeler, was released on June 2, 2017.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Wheeler Walker Jr. spoke little and let his lyrics do the talking while a crowd of rowdy urban cowboys sang the x-rated choruses in union with their novelty hero and spokesperson. Walker wore an acoustic guitar, but hardly played it, while his small band banged out the country grit and twang. The 17 songs moved quickly, and the deft instrumentation gave them authentic country credentials, but in the end, for the audience it was about how many tongue-in-cheek toilet jokes can we handle before we stop smirking. It helps if you have a sense of humor.
Mystic Braves/Mercury Lounge/June 7, 2017
From 2001 to 2003, Mystic Braves was known as the Blackfeet Braves, until a letter from a former Lynyrd Skynyrd band member alluding to potential legal action persuaded the band members to change their name. Mystic Braves is vocalists/guitarists Julian Ducatenzeiler and Shane Stotsenberg, keyboardist Ignacio Gonzalez, bassist Tony Malacara and drummer Cameron Gartung. Some of the musicians were originally from San Diego and Murrieta, California, but the band meshed together in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. The band’s third album is 2015’s Days of Yesteryear.
The Allah-Las and the Growlers are leading the current 1960s garage-psychedelic revival in Los Angeles, but Mystic Braves is not far behind. Mystic Braves’ headlining gig at Mercury Lounge was perhaps closer to the retro source, with a low-fidelity sound dominated by wispy, ethereal vocal harmonies, pop-infused melodies, shimmering post-surf guitar lines, and Farfisa-styled organ riffs. Several of the five musicians looked the part as well, playing antique-styled instruments and wearing vintage clothing and haircuts. Songs ranged from about three to seven minutes, depending on how deep the band ventured into guitar noodling and organ whirring, with the rhythm section keeping the songs light and dance-worthy. Although the band explored old rather than new sounds, the compositions were creative and imaginative and felt fresh and compelling. Contrasting most other contemporary music, Mystic Braves does sound mystic and brave.