Recording information: The Zone, Dripping Springs, TX.
The third song on Ray Wylie Hubbard's 11th studio album, Snake Farm, is called "Heartaches and Grease," and that would have been a pretty good title for the record -- these 11 numbers are shot through with deep, growling guitars that sound like a hopped-up muscle car roaring past you late at night, reeking of Pennzoil and cheap thrills, while Hubbard's lyrics serve up tales of deals with the devil, encounters with a variety of difficult women, and sweet and dirty temptations in all sizes. Snake Farm's approach suggests Hubbard and producer/guitarist Gurf Morlix listened to the raw, bluesy groove of "Choctaw Bingo" that closed out his previous album, Delirium Tremolos, and just moved forward from there; this disc has the same sort of wicked late-night vibe as Exile on Main St., only moved to Texas and written from the perspective of someone who knows a good bit more about where the wrong choices can take you than Mick and Keef had figured out back in the day. Hubbard's songs are the perfect match for the album's gloriously ominous mood -- the craft of his lyrics is superb and he can tell as story as well (and as intelligently) as anyone around today (cue up "The Wild Gods of Mexico" to hear him in stellar form), but he also knows when to cut to the chase and let a simpler, more casual approach take over ("Mother Hubbard's Blues" and the title cut sound as if Hubbard could have made them up as he went along, except there isn't a moment where they hit a wrong note or land on the wrong foot). And the core players on these sessions -- Hubbard, Morlix, Rick Richards on drums and George Reiff on bass -- are superb, rumbling with the muscle of a first-class rock outfit while boasting the laid-back but lethal timing of a great blues band; anyone who still thinks of Hubbard as a marginal figure from the Texas outlaw country scene will get straightened out good and quick after one listen to this disc. There's never been much argument about Ray Wylie Hubbard's gifts as a songwriter, but Snake Farm demonstrates he can make records just as well as he can write, and it's hard to imagine anyone will make a better 3:00 A.M. record than this one in 2006. ~ Mark Deming
No Depression (p.106) - "Just as the band pares the arrangements to the bone, the songs barely waste a word, evoking the themes of sin and redemption in their primal essence."