Record label freedom and mystic poetry inform Ray Wylie Hubbard's latest album

Ray Wylie Hubbard with
John Fullbright and
Terry "Buffalo" Ware
7 p.m. Sunday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley
$20 advance, $25 door
After nearly 40 years in the music business, legendary Texas-based singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard said the decision to form his own record label had everything to do with the freedom to plot his own course as an artist and retain control of his career.

Released on Tuesday, the new album, "A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)," is the inaugural disc of Bordello Records, run by Hubbard's wife, Judy.

"It's not the financial part of it at all," Hubbard, an Oklahoma native, said. "I could have gotten a deal with an independent label and had a bigger budget, but it comes back to that as I've gotten older, I really want to own my music, to own the masters.

"Having the ownership of what you create gives me a great freedom. These songs mean a great deal to me and I want to own them, and that's important to me. The whole record industry is up in the air and nobody knows what's next, and I think we can do better selling 10,000 copies ourselves than if we sold 100,000 for a label."

He said the freedom afforded by steering solo through the turbulent waters of the contemporary music biz led directly to the album's admittedly odd title and cover art, which are inspired from the writings of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic.

The cover, concocted by artist and photographer Jason Wilbur, depicts Hubbard's headless body standing with a samurai sword in one hand and the songwriter's noggin in the other.

"I read a line in Rumi that said, 'Behead yourself! Dissolve your whole self into vision: Become seeing, seeing, seeing!' and I really got into that " the whole notion of getting the thought out of the way and just seeing without thinking and just become a part of it," Hubbard said. "Then I thought, 'What if I took that literally,' and thought, 'Well, there's my album cover.'

"It's kinda edgy and weird, but as I've gotten older, I feel like I've gotta keep pushing the envelope further and further. It just seems to fit, because you look at it and think, 'What is this?' And I think that's important: that when people see it, that it raises questions."

While some fans might be perplexed by such off-the-beaten-path source material and gritty graphics, especially from someone strongly identified with the Texas singer/songwriter tradition, he said such choices are, at least in part, an outgrowth of his ongoing and deepening love of words and language.

"As I've gotten older, I've really learned to appreciate words, and I went back and started reading all the stuff I missed when I was an English major in college " that I was supposed to be reading " because I got involved with music and girls and beer," he said with a laugh. "So I got back and really started reading, and really fell back in love with words."

While reading about the Age of Enlightenment, he found the word "endarkenment."

"I thought, 'Nobody uses that. What an archaic, weird word,'" he said. "But the idea is there: If you're enlightened, and everybody else is not. It's either one or the other. Either you is, or you ain't.

"(Then) I was reading Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven,' of all things, and I imagined the mindset of a distraught, mad poet and this bird, and I wondered 'Man, if that happened to me, what would the bird say?'"

The answer? "Enlightenment, endarkenment and hint: there is no C."

Hubbard went on to spin this odd train of thought into a song, making it "a chant, a sort of field holler," and laid it aside with no immediate plan to record it. But as studio work began, Hubbard found the songs he'd assembled seemed derived from either a sense of religious enlightenment or something much darker.

"The whole record just had this whole personality or theme in it, between philosophical extremes," he said. "There's extreme enlightenment or the religious side with songs like 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' or 'Whoop and Hollar,' and then there's the dark side about 'Opium' and 'Drunken Poet's Dream' and 'Loose.'

"So as a song, 'A. Enlightenment' just worked, kinda showing the whole spectrum. And I thought, 'I'm old and weird, so I can do whatever I want.'"

The album features a deliberately shifting cast of players, which Hubbard said resulted from an instinctive sense of what each song required.  Among those who found their way onto "Enlightenment" are The Trishas, a female vocal quartet from Austin, Texas; guitarist Gurf Morlix, a frequent collaborator and past producer; and guitarists Derek O'Brian (a longtime member of the Antone's house band), David Abeta (of Reckless Kelly) and Billy Cassis (from legendary Austin band Soulhat). The record was co-produced by Hubbard and highly regarded Austin session musician George Reiff.  Also featured is Lucas, Hubbard's 16-year-old son.

"It wasn't a nepotism thing. Lucas stood up to the plate," Hubbard said. "I'm very impressed with his playing. He made the cut. Lucas plays a lot older than he is, I think from hanging around guys like Gurf and George Reiff. He just plays very tasty leads."

While he appreciates the precision with which many contemporary musicians record, Hubbard said he prefers rougher, rawer tracks that sound live when laid to tape.

"So much of now everything is auto-tune and just so precise. I still prefer real guys playin' in a room together," he said. "Everybody who played on this record, played incredibly, but there's still a little bit of that rawness, that believability to it.

"Songs like 'Black Wings' and 'Opium' and 'Enlightenment' were all pretty much recorded live straight through with no overdubs whatsoever. We just went in there and did 'em. I think we overdubbed a guitar part on a couple of songs. It was all done to capture the moment " we wanted performance."

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