Album Review: Lucky Tubb – Damn The Luck
If your name is Griffey, chances are you’re a ballplayer. Kennedy? You’re a politician. And if your last name is Tubb, well, your legacy lies with country music. In addition to patriarch Ernest, Justin, Billy Lee, (aka X. Lincoln), and Glenn Douglas are a few members of the Tubb clan who’ve worked in the family business. Lucky Tubb is the most recent Tubb to join the industry. Grandnephew to Ernest, Lucky is–to paraphrase the chorus from the album’s title track–“backslidin’ to 1950” with his own modern brand of honky tonk. His star is rapidly on the rise; having opened for artists including Ray Price and Dwight Yoakam, Tubb is currently on tour with Hank Williams III and the Damn Band, which—sad but true—is introducing him to a larger audience than he had playing with Hank Sr.’s old buddy Price.
On sophomore album Damn the Luck, Tubb’s voice bears a resemblance to Ernest’s, however, it may to some degree be an exaggeration of his regular voice. His first album, Generation, features a more on-key Lucky displaying a somewhat wider range, even yodeling (perhaps he had a tonsillectomy in the intervening years a la Uncle Ernest?).
There’s a more overt nod to his lineage than just Lucky’s voice, though. The liner notes mention that his Auntie Rosa “blessed [him]” with over 70 recordings of various Tubb men that he never even knew existed. Of these 70, Lucky chose four that especially spoke to him to cover on Damn the Luck. Three of these were written by his uncle, Glenn Douglas Tubb. Glenn Douglas is quite the prolific songwriter, penning hits for Johnny Cash (“Home of the Blues,” is just one), George and Tammy (“Two Story House”), and a host of others. Not content to stay firmly within the boundaries of “unadulterated” country music, Tubb flirts with rockabilly on the toe-tapping “Annie Don’t Work No More,” written by Ronnie Wade, another relative.
Lucky doesn’t restrict his choice in covers to kinfolk; he also offers up a version of 1966 Mel Tillis’ vicious kiss off “Sweet Mental Revenge.” It’s pretty hard to go wrong with such a well-written song, and Tubb doesn’t disappoint as he matter-of-factly sings ”Well I hope the train from Caribou, Maine/Runs over your sweet love affair/You walk the floor from door to door/And pull out your peroxide hair” while the late Steve England’s pedal steel cries behind him.
The covers are a highlight of the album, but Damn the Luck’s six original tracks aren’t half bad either. Don’t expect any waltzes or tender love songs; the bulk of young Tubb’s work centers around being lovesick to the sounds of the country music pantheon: Bob, Buck, Merle, and “ol’ JC” (Jesus? Close…Johnny Cash) are all referred to in one song or another. At least in those songs, Tubb’s on the right side of the steel bars.
“Huntsville” is based partly on the five years Tubb spent rattling around Texas correctional facilities for possessing fifty-plus pounds of marijuana. Something of a non-love letter, “Huntsville” has Tubb wondering who and what his girl on the outside is doing while he spends his time “Wonderin’ if [he’ll] make it through the night” and fending off the “Mexican wantin’ to make [him] his wife.” Okay, so maybe Lucky Tubb isn’t the next great songwriter, but his songs are simple and catchy, and the fact that he’s backed by an excellent barroom band (his Modern Day Troubadours) makes them even more enjoyable. Of special note is fiddler Natalie Page Monson, who joins a pining Tubb on dancehall duet “Bakersfield” and contributes throaty, sassy backing vocals to juke joint ode “Honky Tonkin’.”
Those looking for Ernest reincarnated may be disappointed with Damn the Luck; he may have both feet planted in the family tradition, but Lucky’s his own man. Fans of solid country music with a strong traditional influence are going to be disappointed too…that the record is only 35 minutes long.
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