It seems 20th anniversaries of albums are everywhere now. Off the top of my head, I know that Shelby Lynne, Wilco, and Todd Snider are all celebrating twenty years of something. Of course, some of that is because of the resurgence of vinyl, which makes it a win/win for both the artist and the consumer. I was curious about one of the albums I consider to be in the top ten of best albums ever written, and lo and behold, it was put out in 1994 – making this year the 20th anniversary.
Ray Wylie Hubbard is a great songwriter. Undisputed. Most known for songs like “Snake Farm”, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”, and “Screw You, We’re From Texas”. He is also known for his live shows that combine wit, rock ‘n roll, blues, country and humor, often self-deprecating.
However, with the release of LOCO GRINGO’S LAMENT in 1994, he became much more than that. He became one of the smartest men and one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard. Each song holds up on its own, but as an album, each song bleeds into the next, culminating with the last three songs that show more than any other, the songwriting genius Ray Wylie really is.
Listen to it. I dare you. Listen to it and try not to feel, try not to think, try not to empathize.
Twelve songs – all linked thematically by despair, tragedy, hope, redemption and love.
“Dust of the Chase” sets the tone for the entire record. Simple, straight-forward, haunting. Illustrates the dichotomy of man. The album’s internal struggle of good vs evil and believing vs non-believing is personified by the gambler himself. The song is full if great verses, including “Patience is a virtue that I don’t possess” and “And when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take along Samuel Colt”
“Love Never Dies” is a ballad and “Little Angel Comes A-Walkin’” is a blues number that picks up the tempo of the album a little bit. “After the Fall” is the classic redemption song. I don’t ever want to say autobiographical, however, his voice as the narrator oozes credibility. This song is not a story about hope, it is telling you that there is hope and he forces you to believe it. There is the same feeling throughout the album and especially on “I’ve seen that Old Highway”, “Bless the Hearts of the Lonely”, and “Didn’t Have a Prayer”.
“Wanna Rock and Roll” is probably the most famous song on the album. Covered by Cross Canadian Ragweed and featured on several albums, it is the rocker of the album. (However, the best version of this song is on his live album when he incorporates Johnny Cash and Lead Belly songs into “Wanna Rock n Roll.”)