Obviously going all out for the Radio Two audience Glasgow blues behemoth Craig Hughes‘ latest album, like a previous effort, Pissed Off, Bitter And Willing To Share, takes no prisoners and accepts no compromise when it comes to describing what he is singing about. You might not hear Hughes’ grizzled voice beaming at you while you have your cornflakes (although local Americana show Sunny Govan Switchback has been championing the album) but one gets the impression that Hughes is not in it for the fame but is compelled to record his bleak tales peopled with wretched, well, losers and bastards, and if folk like them then so be it.
Losers and Bastards is Hughes’ second full length release (third if you count his split double disc with Sleepy Eyes Nelson) and sees him once again in the company of Tommy Duffin who drums and plays “boom-chicka-boom” guitar on one of the cuts. Hughes reprises the mix of acoustic slide guitar and stomping razor bladed electric blues wails that he showcased on his last release, Hard Times Vol. 1 (which was voted best blues EP of 2012 by American mag Blues Underground Network). His lyrics too are a mix of despair and grim humour and on a couple of the songs here he proves himself to be a great chronicler of Glasgow life with one of the songs, Future After All reading as if it was an excerpt from a James Kelman story.
The album opens with the foot stomping acoustic blues of Happy Man Cries, an open wound of a song that recalls Richard Thompson’s End of the Rainbow in its pessimism as Hughes sings of a kid’s joy and reminds him that it won’t last as “life’s not as much fun as it seems.” That kid, now grown up, might be the subject of Jam Jar Wasp Trap, another acoustic trip which describes an empty life of staring at the television vicariously grasping at celebrities and ultimately ending up like “an old man in a brothel who can’t get it up.” Next up Hughes plugs in for the dirty blues stomp that is Last Orders (When I Die) as he wonders who will mourn him when he’s gone and plays some mean slide. Future after All is a life in miniature as the protagonist expresses a futile optimism after a small lottery win which is soon drank away and he sinks amidst the morass of his life wondering where his next drink is coming from. A bleak tale but Hughes expresses it with some wonderful imagery and a fine Glaswegian existentialism as he blames the possibility of nuclear annihilation for his having no ambition other than to drink. We mentioned James Kelman earlier on but it’s not too fanciful to compare this to the sordid ballads of Jacques Brel as well.
For Dressed in Rags Hughes sticks on an imaginary Stetson and goes all ZZ Top on us while Beans and Bread is another poverty ridden tale but delivered with some humour and a breathless chorus. White Water is the most upbeat number here with a touch of country blues as Hughes sings of a femme fatale and waxes poetically
“As the years go by I think of her from time to time/Out of the blue her smile might come to mind/And I recall losing her, the way she turned back as she left/And that faraway look in her eyes/She wasted her youth going further and faster/She fell for successive losers and bastards/She was a kindred spirit and I was drawn to her.”
With his growl of a voice one would never expect to accuse Hughes of showing a little tenderness but here he shows that we all have our soft spot and everyone has a shot at romance, successful or not. Everybody’s Got to Cheat and Lie Sometimes might turn out to be Hughes’ anthem as he churns out a Woody Guthrie type manifesto over a rough beat and some scintillating slide guitar. A Strongman and an Acrobat visits Blind Willie Johnson territory on an evil sounding acoustic slide number with voodoo lyrics and he wraps the album up with the rollin’ and tumblin’ boogie of Wood and Wire which declares that when the chips are down a guitar is a poor man’s best friend.
As usual Hughes is offering Losers and Bastards on a pay what you want basis for the download however for a measly five quid you can get the CD package with a lyric sheet and it’s well worth every last penny. check it out here.