Ray Wylie Hubbard's latest offering is the gritty, humorous, seductive and exhilaratingly intelligent, Snake Farm, a collection of commanding songs that represent the best of both worlds, juxtaposing impeccable lyrics with dirty, primal grooves. The distinct imprint of umber roots producer/guitarist Gurf Morlix is apparent in the record's authentic texture and sonic superiority.
To listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard's Snake Farm
is to enter an eerie netherworld populated by dark and fascinating characters, some of whom are creepy enough to give you the shivers. The sandpaper-voiced Hubbard, a Texas songwriting legend, works a primal, greasy groove with these bluesy portraits, starting with Ramona, the dancing, tattooed reptile-house worker of the unforgettable title track. "Snake Farm" hypnotically mixes slithering images of sex, fear, revulsion, and humor, especially when Hubbard lets out a shimmering and menacing shudder of disgust. ("Snake farm / It just sounds nasty / Snake farm / Purty much is.") Guitar gunslinger Seth James sharpens the fine point on the stiletto that helps make these songs so lethal, but throughout, Hubbard strives for a tone of decadent elegance, whether evoking polecat love or the sideshow thievery of "Rabbit" ("There's two kinds of people in the world / The day people and the night people / It's the night people's job / To get the day people's money"). Produced by the masterful Gurf Morlix, who keeps things lean, foreboding, and roadhouse rough, the album sounds as if it were recorded in a room lit only by a naked 90-watt bulb--the perfect atmosphere in which to conjure songs of sin, deceit, and subterranean shenanigans. By record's end, redemption appears in a gonzo-ized telling of the Christ tale ("Resurrection"). But the Devil holds center stage until then, particularly on "The Way of the Fallen," inspired by Dante's Inferno
, and on the Joseph Campbell mythology of "Wild Gods of Mexico," which involves a graphic canine sacrifice. Like Reservoir Dogs
, the Quentin Tarantino classic Hubbard references in another humorous--if complex--example of women, sex, and revulsion, Snake Farm
is not for the faint of heart. But fans of lowlife chic and exemplary Texas songwriting should lap this up quicker than cold longnecks and hot chicken-fried steak. --Alanna Nash