Photos by Chris Gray
He’s hairy and laid-back, but Jubal Lee Young is hardly your average everyday limp-noodle folk singer. He prowls around while he’s playing and he beats on his Martin guitar like it’s a mastodon he’s trying to kill with stick. He sings like a soul singer headed to the electric chair.
You got the feeling it was going to be a special night when, during the sound check, a mechanic at the bar turned and said, “Hey, I really like this guy.” After singing two songs to warm up and check equipment, the audience erupted, not realizing Young wasn’t actually going to start his set for another hour.
For his first-ever Houston gig, Young brought brass and humor to the stage as he worked through a smartly drawn list of originals, like brilliant love song “More Than Anything,” wistful travelogue “Streets of Caen” and politically charged “Greedy Old Men With Fountain Pens.”
Young freely mixed in a wealth of obscure covers, like his dramatic performance of Richard Dobson’s “Piece of Wood and Steel.” Two crowd-pleasers were an I’ll-whip-your-ass reading of David Olney’s “The Way I Am” (“Just tryin’ to be the best damn fool I can, I can’t help it that’s the way I am”) and a spot-on version of Mickey Newbury’s psychedelic classic “Just Dropped In to See What Condition My Condition Was In.”
You could hear the caveman howl somewhere in Young’s voice as he powered through “I Might Be Crazy,” from his first album, Not Another Beautiful Day. Young saved a masterwork by his father Steve for the closer, and literally set fire to place with the bluegrass breakdown “East Virginia” from his dad’s album Primal Young. Yeah, for a folk singer, the whole show was pretty primal. – William Michael Smith
Young plays the Big Top tonight and Old Quarter in Galveston Friday.