Ray Wylie Hubbard
Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club
Misery Loves Company

Mythology can be a very powerful and sometimes dangerous thing. This is something Dallas native Ray Wylie Hubbard no doubt understands. A veteran of the early 1970s' great progressive country scare, he mainly left myths in his wake. That, and the very mixed blessing of having written "Redneck Mother."

Hubbard and his Cowboy Twinkies were legendary for their raw, anarchic and almost punky honky-tonk rave-ups, and he lived his off-stage life as wildly as he played his music. It's almost as if, after penning "Redneck Mother," Hubbard was driven to penance by becoming the song's worst nightmare -- a substance-fueled wild man -- and, in the great musical tradition, having his hit also serve as his epitaph.

But the intervention of God and reason altered Hubbard's fate, thankfully. Since 1992's Lost Train of Thought, Hubbard has been ascending a ladder to an artistic and mystical heaven with each successive album. And in his transfiguration from outlaw to sagebrush sage, Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club is like a sweet moment of repose and reflection from a new and deeply satisfying plateau.

These days, Hubbard writes like a Hill Country Buddha meditating under a cedar tree, his songs full of Western mysticism and mythic tales, and the music rich with the late-night echoes of the postprogressive country melodicism that plays between the Saturday-night closing of the honky-tonk and the opening hymn of Sunday-morning services. The feel here is as much a friendly jam as it is a live concert, ideal for Hubbard's sepia-toned tales of restlessness and redemption.

And, yes, he reprises "Redneck Mother." Yet it takes on nearly as much of a new cast as the writer himself, who delivers it with a relaxed two-step savoir-faire that shows he's made as much peace with his most reckless creation as he has with himself and his demons.

With Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club, Ray Wylie Hubbard's resurrection is complete and secure. Given the potency of his renewal, it only whets one's appetite for what's to come.

-- Rob Patterson

Sugar Ray

What can you do with a band like Sugar Ray, which co-opts Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" line in an attempt at self-effacement? It is a group that has jumped from hard rock like Rage Against the Machine to ska-inflected alternative rock depending on which way the commercial winds were blowing. Now embrace a bit of glam, but also stick to the hard-edged rock that is so different from the lighter fare that made people care about the band in the first place. Thanks to the alterna-hit "Fly" and singer Mark McGrath's Cosmo cover-boy looks, Sugar Ray's last record, Floored, was a surprise hit, and now the bandmembers quickly follow it up, jokingly saying that they know their time is up any second. Well, it can't come a minute too soon.

Sugar Ray is great when it comes to reinterpreting the pop culture that Warhol used as his source work. Only Sugar Ray doesn't add to the culture, it mirrors it right back into itself. Taking a stab at credibility, the band samples "Remix for P Is Free," a Boogie Down Production song, and has rapper KRS-One join in on "Live & Direct." The radio single from 14:59 is "Every Morning," basically a "Fly" rewrite minus the reggae influence that uses the acoustic guitars, record scratching and drum machine combination Beck and Cake have mined for some time. Slightly bluesy, with McGrath actually singing, it's a pop song as ubiquitous as "Fly." Big deal; it's not representative of the sound of the rest of the record , a complaint record store clerks are certain to hear. "Falls Apart" is midtempo, Third Eye Bland mope-rock. And any band that covers Steve Miller's "Abracadabra," tongue-in-cheek or not, deserves to have unspeakable evil done to it.

-- David Simutis

Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods
Thicker Than Water
Dead Reckoning

If one were to judge the current national blues scene on the basis of recent recordings, one would probably decide that the blues is dead. Except for a small handful of releases within the last year, blues artists have seemingly mined the genre dry to the point of parody. Classic tunes from the masters have been covered over and over to pointlessness, and any hotshot youngster with a guitar is instantly proclaimed the next Stevie Ray Vaughan, as if there could actually be another. Now along comes Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods. These guys may not save the blues all by themselves, but the Nashville-based group's second release, Thicker Than Water, offers a crash course on what the blues should sound like in 1999.

Henderson is one of Music City's premier guitarists and songwriters, having worked with the likes of John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, Kevin Welch and Delbert McClinton, while the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Patty Loveless, Joy Lynn White and others have recorded his songs. The Bluebloods include keyboard player John Jarvis, bassist Glen Worf and drummer John Gardner, players in high demand in Nashville and beyond. They perform as a cohesive unit, capturing the spirit of Muddy Water's Chicago style with a spontaneity that is uncommonly accurate yet as raw and uncompromising as the original. They pay homage to the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf, showing a necessary respect for the past. However, each of the Henderson/Worf penned originals is equally strong, full of sly guitar licks, soulful, pleading vocals and rock solid rhythms. Anyone who's lost faith in the blues owes it to himself to check out Thicker Than Water.

-- Jim Caligiuri

Paul Weller
Modern Classics: The Greatest Hits

After the Style Council lost its record contract in 1990, some suggested that Paul Weller had lost his creative edge. So Weller went solo and made a self-titled album that spun the jazzy pop styles of the Style Council toward a more rock-oriented direction. The result: Weller was back on the charts and lauded by the press once more. His next three solo albums saw him all but give up the pop sound in favor of Stax-Volt, Atlantic Records R&B, Beatles and late-'60s rock influences. They also resurrected his place as one of England's most influential musicians (in the United States, of course, no one has heard of him).

Containing 15 songs from his solo albums, and the obligatory new song to entice hardcore fans into buying it, Modern Classics is a good, albeit incomplete, Weller primer. Weller's songs have the conciseness of a pop 45 and the tonality of R&B-influenced classic rock. Vocally, he's like a cross between Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker and adds soulful background singers like the latter. Yet Weller's songs also have an alternative spin to them. "Sunflower" and "Into Tomorrow" bridge the gap between Weller and alternative rock and in the process illustrate his superior sense of melody and song progression. An exceptional interpreter of ballads and rock anthems, Weller is at his best on "Wild Wood" (folk with a subtle, driving beat) and "Hung Up," which could have been on Abbey Road if John Lennon had sounded like Joe Cocker and had had background soul singers.

Modern Classics fills only 55 minutes but provides a good array of ballads, anthems, and alt-rock and pop songs. Liner notes are nonexistent, and what about lyrics? For that matter, the titles are hard to read on the back cover. No matter: The music's stellar. The Modfather has created vital work that has a sense of familiarity to it without sounding retrogressive. Simply put, it's some of the best of the decade.

-- Paul J. MacArthur


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